As college students prepare to return back to campus or begin a semester of online learning, many international students are preparing for the possibility that they'll be forced out of the United States. Last week, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement released new guidelines that mandated that international students on F-1 or M-1 visas must vacate the United States if they don't meet the minimum requirement for in-person credits for their classes in the fall.
For students at universities that are going completely online in the fall, they have no option but to transfer or take a medical leave, which cannot be done without the clearance of a doctor, in order to keep their non-immigrant status. The terms for international students at hybrid institutions specify that there is a minimum credit limit that students must take in-person to remain in the United States.
Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology quickly responded to ICE’s guidelines by suing the government of the United States. At least 58 colleges and universities have joined them in that fight.
Many students have begun advocating for their classmates, and urging their universities to follow suit. Some students have worked with their professors to create in-person classes so students can remain in the United States, while others have worked with their international friends to switch courses in their schedules.
However, at large universities, it may be hard for international students to connect with those who are willing to swap classes with them. Sumana Kaluvai, a recent graduate of the University of California Los Angeles and an admin of an international student Facebook group, decided to make the process easier for foreign students to find those willing to give up their in-person classes.
Kaluvai created a Google Doc for international students to connect with American students at their respective universities who were willing to swap classes. Within 24 hours, the document had over one million views. To further spread the word, Kaluvai teamed up with organizations like Community Equity and San Jose Strong, who used their networks to inform students about their options.
Website is well underway and we will have a link/post up ASAP. Excited to share the amazing work inspired by @oksumana (H4 Hope) and her spreadsheet platform. Our team at Community Equity (@yuliyules @noah_kealii) has partnered with her, @SanJose_strong founder @mary_celestin and their amazing team of artists, researchers, and writers (to be credited on the website), and two rockstar developers (@mcclain.thiel and @rsacripanti )! We would also like to thank the countless of students who have taken it upon themselves to create spreadsheets of the in person classes for fall offered at their universities and colleges. Also thank you to those of you who have taken Initiative to start petitions. We will be sharing all these resources on our coming website. ‼️ Stay tuned ‼️ Please hang tight and keep pushing your schools to announce a plan to protect students!
According to Kaluvai, the doc is “just a temporary fix. This is not the end solution.” This proved true, as the page became overrun by harassment and xenophobic comments by internet trolls, leading Kaluvai to lock the document.
In its place, she and the groups she is working with created the Save Our International Students website, where international students can connect with American students while leaders moderate the responses. Hundreds of students have registered to give up their courses, but hundreds have also registered because they are still in need of more in-person credits to reach the minimum.
In the short term, the goal of the website is to provide international students with the ability to stay in the United States. Moving forward, however, the website plans on expanding from just connecting students to classes to combating the larger issue. In the future, it will also publicize petitions, resources, and email templates for students to reach out to their local representatives.
Class swaps are a short term solution for a much larger problem that can extend far beyond just the fall semester. Many universities that are completely online or hybrid for the fall semester will most likely not return to fully in-person classes in the spring. If the second wave of COVID-19 hits, the toll could last even longer. Students can work with one another to help their international peers, but until this pandemic is truly over, international students must live in a constant state of limbo, never knowing whether or not they can remain in the United States for the next semester.