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MEXICO CITY – At first SG thought it was false news.
SG is a student from Venezuela and has lived in Florida for four years. The news she received earlier this week seemed as bizarre and implausible as some of the rumors that regularly float around her home country. But that happened in the US and it happened to her.
On Monday, the Trump administration announced that foreign students whose course loads are conducted exclusively online as part of the coronavirus pandemic would have to leave the country. Shortly thereafter, SG’s cell phone began to glow with a flood of messages and links.
“That must be a lie. It’s certainly a rumor, ”thought SG, who asked to only use her initials for fear of how her immigration status might change in the coming days. “Why should we have to leave when we’re legally here and have a visa?”
Her parents, SG said, decided to spend a large part of their savings on college education even though Venezuela’s economy was in a leap of the nose. Her parents still live in Venezuela, unlike many of her friends and neighbors who have fled widespread insecurity, hyperinflation, a collapsing healthcare system, and frequent power outages.
If she is forced to return home, how can SG take online classes when the power goes out?
The new policy from the Immigration and Customs Service running the Student and Exchange Visitor Program is the latest in a series of policies aimed at curbing legal immigration to the United States. More than 1 million international students in the US are at risk of deportation due to a global pandemic that has severely restricted air travel.
When they are forced to return home, many of these students are in different time zones and places where access to the internet is incomplete at best, making it more difficult for them to follow the course than if they were in the US .
This change “will encourage schools to reopen,” Acting DHS Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli told CNN. F-1 and M-1 academic and professional visa holders must move to a school that offers partially face-to-face courses or leave the country. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued more than 398,000 such visas in the 2019 financial year.
On Wednesday, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration to stop the new policy.
In a letter to students and faculty, Harvard President Lawrence Bacow said policies aim to pressure universities to open their sites in the fall despite record numbers of coronavirus infections, saying their cruelty is “only due to theirs.” Recklessness has been surpassed “. Harvard announced last month that classes would be held remotely for the next year, with rare exceptions.
Professors across the country struggled to understand the implications of the vaguely worded policy, and many offered to offer face-to-face courses that were re-designed to protect students from the transmission of COVID-19.
“If it’s the safest place outside and we need to meet in person, I’ll find a palm tree,” Joshua Scacco, professor of political communications at the University of South Florida, told BuzzFeed News. There are more than 4,700 international students from 141 different countries at USF.
Professors from the University of California, Columbia University, DePaul University and Syracuse University made similar offers on Twitter, among others. According to SG, several professors reached out to her on the social media platform to offer support, even if it was just emotional.
More than half of the 1.1 million international students in the US are from China and India, according to the Institute of International Education. Many others come from Latin American countries, where they often flee drug-related violence and political oppression.
When SG left Venezuela in 2016, food, water and electricity shortages were already widespread. But things have gotten worse and now they only get running water for 30 minutes a day.
“I can’t imagine coming back to it now,” said SG, who estimates that at least 300 other Venezuelan students study at her university.
For now, SG is waiting to see what happens to politics in view of the massive setback at the universities. She fears for herself and for the many Venezuelan students in the US who will no longer have anything at home because their families are no longer there – millions have fled to neighboring countries or even to Europe in recent years.
The directive, if adopted, would also pose a serious financial challenge to colleges and universities, which are heavily dependent on foreign student income. International students contribute $ 45 billion to the US economy and support 455,000 US jobs, according to the Department of Commerce.
Like most international students, Garry Fanata, a fourth-year software development student at the University of California at Irvine, pays full tuition. His biggest concern right now is that he won’t be able to stay in the US after working for a top tech company for a few years.
“This was my plan to repay my parents for the investment they put into my education,” he said.
Fanata, who is the first generation of his Indonesian family to study in the US, said he wasn’t looking for flights home yet because he was confident his university would find a solution. “However, this may not be the case for smaller colleges and universities,” he added.
Others are less optimistic, including a computer engineering student who said he plans to visit his family in India in September. The 20-year-old student, who wanted his name to be used for fear of being attacked by ICE, said he had feared for months that the coronavirus would derail his plans. Now he fears that the US government will not let him back into the country.
“This week has been one of the most stressful weeks ever,” he said. In addition to the stress: “I have to keep doing my best. America is ready to kick me out. “
While much of the discussion is currently focused on the economic impact of international students, Scacco says it is important to remember that those affected are young, law-abiding people who want to study at the best universities.
“These students are people who deserve respect and assurance about their educational processes,” he said. “We have made arrangements with these students.”