COVD-19 has caused worldwide concern in higher education — and right in the middle of an ongoing decline in the number of international students studying at American universities.
Schools are losing billions, as NAFSA: Association of International Educators (nafsa.org) reported in March. Also being discussed regarding international students are the impacts on coming admission cycles, financial funding, and how teachers are being told to teach online. Most universities moved to online teaching this spring, and some, like Boston University, are considering possibly postponing the fall 2020 semester. This would put international students at even higher risk because if they are not enrolled for a specific number of credits during a semester, they will not meet visa regulations. Deportation proceedings could be initiated against them.
And these are not the only challenges international students are going through.
There’s also financial insecurity. Many of my American friends don’t know that international students are only allowed to work on campus for a limited number of hours to support themselves. These hours are further reduced during the summer semester for international students. Due to this unprecedented situation, international students are worried about how they will earn their livelihood and pay their bills with campuses closed.
Traveling is extremely expensive at this point, another concern for international students. Canada, India, and many European countries are on complete lockdown. International travel is expensive, and that is why international students choose to go annually or biannually. Someone I know can afford tuition fees but depends entirely on an on-campus cafe job to pay bills.
In these extremely uncertain times, the educational institutions are doing their best to offer most classes online and to provide food, supplies, and virtual support. But this is a temporary solution.
International students have sustained the economy of American universities. Though international students may not be citizens or permanent citizens, they pay similar kinds of taxes on their little income that contributes to the U.S. economy.
I have been worried about my friends and family. I am not at home to take care of my parents. To seek solace, I have been talking to other international students. I realize I am not alone. We are all stressed. One lost family members, a few have economic challenges, and my friend's elderly parents are alone without any help.
We do not know if traveling is safe, both from our health and immigration point of view. International travel might possibly expose us to the virus.
Many students have invested hard-earned resources with a dream to earn their degrees in America. They are worried about getting jobs. University of Chicago Business Professor and Economist Anil Kashyap and Jean-Pierre Danthine of the Paris School of Economics are among those predicting a massive recession that will likely hit the job market. That would make it even harder for international students to find employment.
International graduate students joining U.S. schools in the fall 2020 also see an uncertain future. After graduating in two or five years, depending upon what degree they pursue, they don’t know if a stable economy will be there to welcome them.
I understand this situation is global, and everyone should take steps guided by morality and compassion. The American economy has benefited immensely from the contributions of immigrants. Far from home, they don’t have much direct physical support, unlike most other students, and everyone should come forward with a different approach to meet our challenges.
Saurabh Anand of Delhi, India, is an international student who graduated this spring with a master’s degree in English from Minnesota State University, Mankato. He wrote this for the News Tribune.