International students worried about a new immigration policy that could potentially cost them their visas say they feel stuck between being unnecessarily exposed during the COVID-19 pandemic and being able to finish their studies in America.
Students from countries as diverse as India, China and Brazil told they are scrambling to devise plans after federal immigration authorities notified colleges this week that international students must leave the U.S. or transfer to another college if their schools operate entirely online this fall.
“Shame on the Trump Administration for risking not only the education opportunities for students who earned the chance to go to college, but now their health and well-being as well,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Thursday.
Some said they may return home, or move to nearby Canada. “I’m generating research, I’m doing work in a great economy,” said Batuhan Mekiker, a Ph.D. student from Turkey studying computer science at Montana State University in Bozeman. He’s in the third year of a five-year programme. “If I go to Turkey, I would not have that,” he said. “I would like to be somewhere where my talent is appreciated.”
Worries and concerns
Mathias, a Seattle-based student, said he is set to sell his car, break his lease, and get his cat Louis permission to fly back to his home in Paris in the next two weeks. “Everyone’s very worried,” he said. “We have our whole lives here.”
Seven students from China and Germany who attend universities in California sued on Friday to block enforcement, alleging potential threats to their health and “financial calamity.”
Many American universities have come to depend on the revenue from more than one million international students, who typically pay higher tuition.
Suit by Harvard
A day after Harvard sued, the university notified the court that immigration authorities appear to be already enforcing the policy. A lawyer for Harvard urged the judge to suspend the rule, saying that a first-year student from Belarus was turned away from his flight at a Minsk airport.
Jasdeep Mandia, a doctoral candidate from India studying economics at Arizona State University, said he has breathing problems that could worsen if he gets sick from COVID-19. Mr. Mandia, 35, originally planned to conduct all his fall studies online. He says the Trump directive puts the shaky standing of international students on display. “It has never been a level-playing field,” he said. “But this makes it more apparent.”
Natalia Afonso, a Brooklyn College student from Brazil, said she hopes the school will adopt a hybrid model of remote and in-person classes — but she fears riding the subway to campus could increase her chances of catching the virus. “I don’t see myself moving back to Brazil at this point,” said the 27-year-old, who is studying education and just finished her first semester. “It’s very unfair.”