International Students Like Me Now Face Deportation Amidst Pandemic

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

I’d like to say that nothing about Trump’s America phases me anymore. I think a lot of us — US Nationals or otherwise — have to think that way, to stay sane in this barbaric, archaic political climate. Long gone are the days of shock and horror as we watched this administration dismantle decades of progress in just a few short years. We’ve learned to numb ourselves, simply wishing away the time until proper leadership resumes.

In recent months, we’ve seen the sinister hiding of racist ideals behind the guise of The War on COVID. Injustice has prevailed amongst Trump’s administration, despite international attention on the repeated instances of police brutality; not to mention the systemic racism deeply ingrained in American society. It sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The Delusions of Grandeur repeatedly projected from the White House that America is somehow a world-leader in all things. When it comes to combating this novel coronavirus, the US has proved itself little more than a global embarrassment.

Unlike Midas, it appears that everything this government touches turns to dust. The latest of these xenophobic moves is Monday’s ruling from ICE, that international students — like myself — are to be forbidden this fall from enrolling or reenrolling in a university offering exclusively online classes. The alternative? Transfer institutions or leave the US. This happened to be announced on the same day that Harvard declared that all classes would be online this coming semester and only 40% of students to be invited back to campus, in an attempt to mitigate COVID-19 transmission.

Like most folks in academia, I’m still trying to wrap my head around all this. The guidance goes as far as saying that students will not be exempt, even if their school is forced to close in response to an outbreak. This places tremendous pressure on universities to go against the scientific literature and stay open, increasing the risk of transmission if they want to keep their students. It seems so utterly bizarre and counterintuitive to declare such specific, heartless ruling. I cannot, for the life of me, come to any conclusion other than the furthering of a cruel, xenophobic agenda, combined with the dismantling of education. Knowledge is power, after all.

If international students were over here sponging off the government, it’d be a different story; we’re all aware of the economic burden of this virus and the grim road to recovery ahead of us. This is where many of us are also confused, because the reality is that we contribute billions of dollars to the US economy each year. In 2018, students — like me — pursuing higher education in the US brought in a whopping $45 billion. That’s also half a million US jobs supported, I might add.

Under Trump’s administration, we’ve seen visa applications extended from a 2-month to a 6-month turnaround. We’ve also stomached increased fees and the risk of harsher penalties for accidentally overstaying our welcome, as well as the threat of missed opportunities intentionally kept out of arm’s reach. As a result, the number of international applicants to US institutions fell by 10% between 2017–2019. Consider that many graduate students in STEM subjects in the US are international and you realize that without us, the funding runs dry and many programs may cease to exist if we continue on the current trajectory.

A fellow British student joining my department this fall first raised alarm bells when student visa applications from the US embassy in London were halted in the spring following a proclamation from Trump. On June 22nd this was extended through December 31st of this year for anyone from the UK, Ireland, much of Europe, and further afield.

How did we deviate so far off course? Why — amidst a pandemic — is the government desperately trying to keep out bright minds, any of which might help in the development of a vaccine? Add to this the nightmare that universities are already facing in their attempt to carry on “business as usual” in an entirely remote fashion (to protect students and staff) and collapse feels imminent.

Rules and regulations are a part of any visa. Some of these make aspects of living abroad trickier than they would otherwise be, but the US seems to be proving itself more unreasonable than anywhere else in the developed world. How is it that during a pandemic with cases through the roof in states like Arizona where I live, we are being hung out to dry? No matter whence we came, we have worked ourselves to the bone and endured culture shock away from our friends and family to contribute to your research and development. We give you the edge over competitors, yet you don’t seem to give a damn.

What about leases that have been signed for the year ahead? What about the prospect of returning to a country that puts us at risk? What about those of us with nowhere else to go because we’ve built a life here? If we do stay because our universities offer us in-person classes but we’re immunocompromised, what then? We’re to put our lives at risk while American citizens can stay at home?

Just this morning (July 8th, 2020,) Harvard and MIT filed a federal lawsuit challenging this rule. The universities contend that the decision violates the Administrative Procedures Act because no justification for the decision was provided, nor were the public given the opportunity to comment on it.

Money aside — though it’s an important determining factor in how hard institutions will fight for us over the next month — I ask you (yes, you) to please support us in these trying times. We are people, just like you, who need stability. We believe in this country and we’re doing our best to call it home, but we’re scared, stressed, and being ostracized, so we need your help.

How to Help:

  1. If you are a US domestic student or faculty member, contact your university and ask them what they are doing to support international students this fall.
  2. Reach out to your fellow international students and make sure they know they that you stand in solidarity with them.
  3. Sign one of the numerous petitions like this one, to demonstrate that you are in favor of diversity in academia.

Arizona-based PhD student from Britain | Popularising science and writing about important things as well as silly things

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