When COVID-19 began to spread uncontrollably in the US on Mars, universities across the country closed. Most University students went home to be with their families, but for international students, this was not an option.
Chemistry graduate student Ahmed Al Harraq has not seen his family since August 2019.
It has been pretty bad all year, Harraq said. I normally go to visit family in Italy and friends during the summer. I definitely can not do this this year especially since Italy was one of the most hit countries in the world.
However, traveling to see family and friends remains difficult for international students if they want to return to the US
He disrupts a flow Ive had with my family by seeing them at least once or twice a year, Harraq said. Being so far makes it a little more stressful.
Routine visa processing has been suspended at US embassies and consulates around the world. International travel restrictions are in place in many countries, and commercial flights are limited and can be expensive for international students.
LSU Aluminum Amrat Gandhi, founder of the International Alumni Chapter at LSU, said the students being alone have impacted their mental health.
They do not have their own families, Gandhi said. You know that if you come back you can not come back.
Construction management graduate student Shashank Muley, vice president of the LSU International Student Association, said international students tend to hold social gatherings with other international students something the pandemic made difficult.
We tried to do some Zoom sessions and some activities but it was not so helpful, Muley said.
Despite the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, most international students in the US chose to stay at their university, according to data collected by the Institute of International Education.
If I invest so much, if I come here and invest nearly $ 100,000 in my education, I want to get something back, Gandhi said. I am taking out a loan so I can get a better education in this country. If I come here, it is because I want to make my future better.
Adding to the already existing stress and uncertainty, in July, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that international students pursuing degrees at U.S. colleges and universities could not stay in place if they enrolled in a full online course load.
The announcement came at a time when many universities were considering whether to hold personal classes in the next semester or return to distance learning.
According to the regulation, international students who were unable to attend private lessons would have to transfer to universities or leave the country.
Entire international student populations were in deep and deep trouble at the time, Muley said. You must return home or be deported which brings a sense of dread to the minds of international students.
Am I doing something wrong here? I want to stay and do everything right, why be expelled?
Muley said he and other members of the International Student Organization talked to Interim President Tom Galligan about the new rule. Galligan assured international students that even if the order stood, the University would not be fully online in the fall.
Over 59 public and private colleges including every Ivy League member signed a brief court upholding the lawsuit filed by Harvard and MIT against ICE and the Department of Homeland Security.
The ICE returned the regulation a week later, representing a victory for international students in the US and for the universities that led the legal front to change the order.
Many international students are in the STEM fields and many of their academic and career paths depend on research experience, something that significantly impacted the pandemic.
PhDs are awarded based on performance in terms of research, Harraq said. As an experimenter, not being able to come to the lab for two months is not good. You waste a lot of time you could have devoted to collecting data and things like that.
Companies were also less willing to hire international students on work visas due to uncertainty about travel bans. Employers also have to pay a fee to hire students working on H1-B visas, something Gandhi said they were less willing to do during the pandemic.
People did not want to take risks with international students, Gandhi said. Many employers stopped hiring international students, so many people who graduated did not end up finding work.