By Jhoana T. Merino-Martinez
A real concern for international students in the U.S. is not just when they will be allowed to return to campus — but if.
These concerns were a main topic during a virtual political discussion hosted by Washington, D.C.-headquartered Arnold & Porter Law Firm, on Wednesday, July 8, called “Policymaker Speaker Series,” to discuss the Congressional response to the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment, protests against race injustices and other “historic economic inequality.”
Featured guest Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., was joined by members of the law firm, including former Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), Kevin O’Neill, Paul J. Fishman and Dana Weekes.
Booker commented on the recent change in student visa policy, saying that it will hurt the economic leverage of the U.S. and give advantage to competitors.
He said that international students add “so much value to our country and economy,” and for this “we need collective outrage.”
The Department of Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) announced a change in visa regulations on July 6, stating that international students enrolled in universities that are online-only for the fall semester will have to either transfer or leave the United States.
“The U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester,” the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announced online. “Nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States.”
Almost immediately, the policy faced backlash from several universities. Harvard and MIT sued the Trump administration.
President Christopher Capuano addressed the anxieties around this policy in the president’s update on Wednesday, July 9, writing that FDU’s hybrid model of instruction for the fall means our international students will not be directly affected.
However, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) also adjusted policies for international students who are attending a university that adopted a hybrid model.
While these students will be allowed to take more than one online class — a declared maximum for those attending purely in-person universities — they are not allowed to take their whole schedule online.
Students who violate these regulations may risk being deported.
Navigating Current Travel Laws
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ 2010 Higher Education Directory, FDU has international students from 97 different countries, with highest representation from India, China, Taiwan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia. FDU says international students are 10% of its Metropolitan campus population.
So, even if international students are able to follow U.S regulations, many international travel bans are in place as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There haven’t been any specific updates regarding the future of international studies at FDU, but the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in India announced that commercial flights from India to other countries will resume as of July 3 — including to the United States.
According to an updated list of global travel restrictions by The New York Times, Taiwan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia have not yet released suspensions on commercial flights intercountries.
CNBC reported that the U.S. suspended Chinese passenger flights entering the country starting June 16, making FDU’s Chinese students return unclear at this time.
International FDU Student Speak Out
As FDU’s fall semester start date inches closer, some international students remain optimistic about their return.
Shreya Gulia is a rising sophomore and sports administration major. She is an international student from India and a tennis athlete who is looking forward to returning.
“It [will] feel good to be back on campus and play college tennis, and being back to normal life,” Gulia said via Snapchat.
Maria Barbu, a rising sophomore and a humanities major from Romania, shares Gulia’s sentiment.
“I honestly cannot wait to return to campus,” she said via Snapchat. “I really miss the experience that college offered me so far and I would be very disappointed if the fall semester will be [fully] online.”
The students also say that the semester’s hybrid schedule is favorable from a safety standpoint.
“I find it convenient. The spread of the virus is at this point beyond our control, therefore this decision is safer for everybody,” Barbu said.
“No thanksgiving break is good too,” Gulia said. “Like, we won’t travel much.”
However, the announcement of partial online courses brings up academic concerns.
“Online courses are not at my advantage since I prefer face to face interaction with teachers,” Barbu said. “I feel that I comprehend the material better while on campus.”
The president’s update on Tuesday, July 6, stated that FDU plans for multiple contingencies such as a spike in coronavirus cases. While the plans have not been confirmed, Barbu hopes that housing will not be a concern in a worst-case scenario.
“If we get back on campus and the situation aggravates again, we should be able to stay in our dorms as much as needed until we can fly back home or find an alternative solution,” Barbu said.
International students’ fate still hangs in the balance, yet Sen. Booker says that the rise of political tension for this policy and other racial tensions — such as the Confederate statue controversies — brings hope that the public’s “empathy is evolving.”
“We can have discussions about monuments, but God, I want real reform,” Booker said.