‘Dangerous time’: Local international students weigh in on ICE rule to study in person

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 coronavirus pandemic and being able to finish their studies in America.

Students from countries as diverse as India, Nigeria and Japan told the Long Beach Post they are scrambling to devise plans after federal immigration authorities notified colleges last week that international students must leave the U.S. or transfer to another college if their schools operate entirely online this fall.

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a lawsuit last week to block the decision, and now California and Washington state are seeking injunctions against enforcing the new visa policy.

“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, where access to stable internet or being in a different time zone may make learning from abroad more challenging.

Samantha, a Cal State Long Beach nursing student from Nigeria who spoke on condition her last name not be used for fear of losing her immigration status, said many places in Nigeria do not have stable internet access or power supply.

“Also, the time zone difference is a negative factor, making my class times in the middle of the night,” Samantha said. “Furthermore, it will be a challenge to find a convenient time to reach professors and other online resources if I am not here in America.”

Samantha, who recently transferred from Long Beach City College and is expected to graduate in the fall of 2022, said she chose to study nursing in the United States in order to receive more opportunities to better serve her country.

“Life expectancy in Nigeria is much lower than it is here and people have to come to the U.S. for medical care,” Samantha said. “I want people to be able to stay in Nigeria and get good medical care.”

Sonu Jacob, an international student from India who is working to obtain her master’s degree in computer science from CSULB, said she is very stressed about the situation.

From buying expensive tickets to quarantining for about a month in government facilities, she said it will all affect her education and health.

“Each one of us have taken out education loans, and there might be a chance that those lending institutions might change our education loan terms,” Jacob said. “This single decision is going to affect us mentally, financially apart from of course our health and career.”

Seven students from China and Germany who attend universities in California sued Friday to block enforcement, alleging potential threats to their health and “financial calamity.”

The policy “treats them as pawns for the president’s politically motivated decision,” Mark Rosenbaum of nonprofit Public Counsel, which filed the suit, said in a statement.

Many American universities have come to depend on the revenue from more than 1 million international students, who typically pay higher tuition. President Donald Trump has insisted they return to in-person instruction as soon as possible, alleging that schools are being kept closed to harm the economy and make him look bad.

The guidance was released the same day Harvard announced it would keep all undergraduate classes online this fall. Harvard said the new Trump directive would prevent many of its 5,000 international students from remaining in the U.S.

CSULB officials said there are about 1,700 international students enrolled at the university, while LBCC said 78 international students will continue onto the fall 2020 semester and 28 are currently enrolled for the summer term.

In a statement, LBCC Interim Superintendent-President Lou Anne Bynum called the rule a “punitive directive” from the Trump administration and said the college “will do everything possible to keep our international students safe.”

CSULB said it is working with the CSU Chancellor’s Office to assess policy implications for the campus.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the directive could inflict “significant harm” on colleges, students, the business community and the economy.

A U.S. State Department press release said the policy “provides greater flexibility for non-immigrant students to continue their education in the United States, while also allowing for proper social distancing on open and operating campuses.”

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. Another hearing was scheduled Friday.

“We are being forced to choose between our career or health,” Jacob said. “We don’t have that money to cover our health expenses if something happens.”

LBCC computer science student Rie, who declined to have her last name published, said it is “a very dangerous time to change online classes to in-person classes for now.”

The Japanese student said she found out about the new rule from a former teacher and received confusing information from the international office.

In an email sent to international students at LBCC obtained by the Post, administrators told students they will be required to “enroll in 9 units (hybrid or in person) with only one online 3 units class towards the 12 units” in order to maintain legal status in the country.

ICE officials said F-1 students who are studying full time at accredited academic institutions may only take a maximum of one class or three credit hours online. If an F-1 student is enrolled at a school with a hybrid model—a mix of online and in-person classes—they can take more than one class or three credit hours online.

“It is awful and not fair because we paid about three times tuition fees more than citizens students to attend classes here,” Rie said.

CSULB previously mentioned that “some in-person learning and hybrid classes will still be possible through appropriate safety precautions.”

CSULB spokesman Gregory Woods said the school will potentially be offering about 320 course sections with hybrid/in-person learning modalities mainly with courses that have labs and clinical requirements.

At LBCC, there will be “some face-to-face labs in some areas” this fall. It’s unclear how many international students are currently enrolled at the campus.

LBCC officials said they are working on options for international students to maintain their status for the fall 2020 semester.

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