I am Vatsala Thapar, pursuing an undergraduate degree in Computer Science at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. This fall, I will enter my 5th semester (3rd year). As international students, we comprise of a significant percentage of students on campus and the recent regulations have put us in a very vulnerable position.
For schools applying a hybrid system and holding some classes in person, international students who are enrolled in those are allowed back into the US. However, if the status of those classes changes at any point, which is likely if cases rise on campus – we would be sent back. Alternately, if we choose to pursue classes online and the university switches to in-person teaching, we are expected to travel back to the US to preserve our student visas.
Travel is in a fragile state and having to possibly fly back and forth during a pandemic is dangerous, unrealistic and very expensive. I flew home to Delhi from Los Angeles on March 18, right after my college said that it would close.
If your school is holding regular in-person classes, you are subjected to regular visa regulations which includes termination of visa if a student is outside the US for more than five months. With the existing travel bans by the US on so many countries, will they exempt students from it? Or will innocent international students unable to fly lose their visas? Even if I want to, how do I fly back from India?
Schools like Harvard University that are fully online would have to kick out international students from the country. Now, they have gone to court to challenge this order.
While I can understand not wanting unnecessary travel to the US, threatening to deport students currently living there in the middle of a world crisis shows their hostility towards non-citizens. Many of those students do not have the means to travel back to their home countries and some stayed back only to secure their visa status. How does their staying in the US while studying at an American university and contributing to their economy affect anyone else poorly?
International students are expected to pay full tuition (which is much higher than what the local students pay and essentially fund universities) without any financial aid for an online education and choosing to take a leave of absence threatens our student visa. Most students have also signed leases for apartments and have to handle those expenses as well. It is very unfair, to say the least, to give no other options to international students in the middle of an economic depression.
For students who have technical, lab-based classes like me, the practical aspect of the course cannot be given justice to online.
A lot of countries don’t have the internet infrastructure that is required to support online classes with 100 students gathering at the same time. In Delhi, I’ve found it hard to keep up with online learning on account of unsteady internet access.
As an international student, I hoped that the country I trusted to receive my education from would act with empathy and consideration towards me. Unfortunately, reality is very far from it.
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