Our View: Consider unique situations of international students

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, everything has been altered. The world has continued to adapt, and information changes within a matter of minutes. However, one specific part of the Berry community has perhaps faced more change than others. The international students enrolled at Berry have experienced this pandemic as both U.S. residents and citizens of their own country. They have seen the effects of this pandemic in multiple countries, and the ripples have sent shockwaves through their lives, both in their home countries and at Berry. 

In March when Berry shifted to remote instruction, international students had to return home and participate in classes virtually like every other student, but they faced a larger adaptation because they were in dramatically different time zones. For example, students in Sweden with a 9 a.m. class were attending class at 3 p.m. locally. Some students might have faced even more inconvenient time shifts. 

According to U.S. News, the U.S.’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) changed their policies on July 6 to state that if an international student was enrolled in a fully-online program for the fall 2020 semester, then that student would have to leave the U.S. and participate in classes from their home country. This policy was reversed on July 14 just eight days later. In the end, the policy changed nothing, but the eight days when it was in effect must have been very hectic and terrifying. International students had to entertain this idea of remaining in their home country indefinitely until an alternate decision was made. Having to pay full tuition for a semester that is entirely online and completing it from home potentially halfway across the world does not seem like a fair deal. International students already face increased travel costs, longer times away from home and more paperwork from Visas and student forms, and increasing their trouble by taking classes online in a different time zone is, honestly, unnecessary. 

According to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), students enrolled in fully-online classes can return to the U.S. as long as they are returning students. This means that international students entering a U.S. college as a freshman or transfer would not be granted a student visa if they are taking strictly online classes. This drastically changes the game for many international students hoping to come to the United States. While the difference between a new and returning student is apparent, it is not clear how that would affect their ability to study in the U.S. through online classes. Being an international student is a crutch for students in these situations through no fault of their own. The institutions themselves make the decisions to have online courses and all students must go along with these decisions. However, this handicaps international students’ ability to obtain an education within the U.S. borders. All international students are at the whims of the authorities when it comes to obtaining student visas and entering the U.S. 

If Berry were to transition to remote instruction once again, international students would once again face these difficulties. Assuming that on campus housing is still an option, upperclassmen international students could potentially remain on campus, however, from the wording of the ICE policy, it is not clear if freshmen or transfer international students would be afforded the same luxury. We cannot know what the future will hold. At the time of publishing, three students and three employees have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 14 days, and while these numbers are low and encouraging, the situation can change within minutes. 

The SEVP and ICE, hopefully, are not making these decisions lightly. We can only trust that they are attempting to make the best decision during a difficult situation for all, but we cannot ignore the repercussions and effects that this can have on international students. International students also need more clear information and guidance regarding the outcomes of staying in the U.S. if colleges shifted to online learning, and they should not be put at a disadvantage because of circumstances that are out of their control. As much as possible, we must be aware of the different ways that the COVID-19 pandemic affects international students’ lives. We need to listen to them and be considerate to others. 

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