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A call about: foreign business travel

As of 1 June, foreign travel is again permitted, albeit with certain restrictions. If you want to travel to a red or orange list area, the University’s International Incident Team (IIT) plays an important role. What do they take into account in your application? We asked Leo Harskamp, Head of Security and Crisis Management.

Have there always been conditions for travelling to high-risk areas? 

'Although it rarely happened in practice, it was possible to impose conditions on foreign travel before the COVID-19 crisis. As an employee you submit an application, and that application is approved or rejected, with or without conditions. The travellers themselves are also asked to take the risks into account when making an application. This is logical, as you cannot prepare well for a trip if you are not aware of the associated risks.'

On what criteria is a travel application approved? 

'If you want to go on a business trip to a red or orange list country or territory, you will require – at minimum – the support of your supervisor and of your faculty board or directorate. If they deem it necessary for you to travel at this time, they will submit your application to the IIT. For travel to an orange list country or territory, the IIT will make a decision on behalf of the Executive Board and for travel to a red list area, the IIT will advise the Executive Board so that they can make the final decision.' 

'Your personal circumstances are an important aspect of your application: how well prepared are you, and would you be able to get support from a local contact person that you could call in the event of any problems? Do you plan to travel alone or with others? What was the colour code of the country before COVID-19, and what is it now? Are you familiar with the country or territory? Does the country you want to go to allow entry to travellers? Does the insurance company cover this country?'

'Another important criterion is your travel plan. It is important to describe it in detail. If you are planning to attend a conference, for example, include the name of the hotel you will be staying at, your approximate itinerary, your travel schedule and who you will be travelling with. The more details you include in your application, the better the risks can be assessed, and the more likely it is that you will be granted permission to travel. Using the same criteria for each application ensures that we can tailor each application to the individual situation, and ensure that everyone at the University receives the same treatment. Approximately 95% of the applications we currently receive are approved.' 

Does this ensure that all risks are eliminated?

'It is not a question of eliminating all possible risks, as that is simply not possible. What we can do, however, is be aware of the risks; only then can the right precautions be taken. Since the beginning of June, confidence in safe travel has been increasing, just as life has slowly started to return to how it was before COVID-19.'

Why is a HEAT course obligatory if you want to travel to an orange or red list country or territory?

'In May this year, the University was faced with the question of how international business travel could be reintroduced. All foreign travel had temporarily been stopped after many people had had to be repatriated in March 2020. It therefore made sense to think this through carefully, rather than simply restarting. We already adhered to the principle of prior risk assessment and wanted to continue doing so. However, people still had little confidence that it was once again safe to travel, and travel to most countries was still more limited than before COVID-19.'

'Leiden University is a research university; it is very important that its staff can travel. We knew that at Wageningen University, staff who go to certain countries on business were offered a training course. We regarded this as something that would make it possible to travel responsibly to high-risk areas.'

'The three-day HEAT course certainly doesn’t focus on COVID-19 risks alone; it provides thorough preparation for any business trip. There will always be countries or territories that are risky, even after COVID-19. Moreover, your travel destination may be an orange list country, but the actual place you need to visit might be designated red (high risk) by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.'

What does HEAT actually stand for, and who pays for the course?

'HEAT stands for ‘Hostile Environment Awareness Training’ and the University pays for the course. The course is also sometimes referred to as ‘basic safety and security training’.'

Which countries are included on the HEAT list? 

'Countries that were practically risk free before the COVID-19 crisis, and which were only orange list countries during COVID, are not included on the list of HEAT countries. Countries that are included are those that already posed a high risk. COVID-19 has made the situation in these countries even less safe, countries such as those affected by civil war, terrorism, the absence of rule of law, inadequate health care and so on. These are countries that few tourists visit, and countries that are listed red or orange with good reason. The list changes occasionally on the basis of advice from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and is available from the University’s security department.' 

What do employees think about training courses like these? 

'The participants who gave permission to share their views were positive':

‘The HEAT course gave me all the tools I needed to prepare for my field work. It also gave me the confidence and peace of mind to travel alone, anywhere. I would recommend this course to any researchers working in remote areas, irrespective of the risk involved.’ - A member of staff.

‘Although I have been travelling for years, the HEAT course reminded me of the importance of good preparation. The good thing is that I can also use what I have learnt when planning a holiday abroad or here in the Netherlands. The course teaches you to look very consciously at risks, and to take precautions, and it’s fun too.’ - A member of staff.

Janine Ubink, who traveled to South Sudan for her research, responded:
"The HEAT course helps you to consciously think about certain risks, how you can reduce them and how to react if something actually occurs during your research. In an interactive way, with simulations and actors, and with an interesting group of participants and teachers, you deal with very serious subjects in a good and fun way.”

Do you have any other tips for travellers?

'Yes, the most important thing is to start preparing in time. This allows you plenty of time to do the three-day training course and prepare other matters well. If you need help or advice with your application, you can call or email the university’s security department.

If you have any questions about security risks in a particular area, Leiden University not only has expertise on the countries themselves, but also has contact with the NGOs present in the country you are going to. Feel free to contact us about this.'

There is a lot happening within Leiden University. The websites are filled with news on a daily basis. In the section 'A call about' we ask one of our employees to tell us more about a relevant and topical subject within the university. The answers give you more insight into the facts, but above all give you more personal background information. What was fun or frustrating? What was remarkable? What was good and what was bad? You can read all about it in 'A call about'.

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