Jamaican students in US worried

Jamaican students in US worried

New ICE guidelines will impact education, finances

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

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A decision by United States (US) federal immigration authorities to revoke the visas of international students whose colleges offer only online courses this fall have left Jamaicans studying in America worried about their educational and financial future.

“Many students have already paid their lease or rent for next year,” Pascal Lindsay, University of South Florida mechanical engineering student told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

“If the college decides to go completely online we will be paying for empty rooms for a year,” he said, adding that, on average, rent ranges from US$600 to US$900 per month. “So it's a serious expense that is going to affect us greatly.”

Lindsay said if his university decides to not keep face-to-face classes then international students will have no claim to be in the US.

He also expressed concern for those students who need to stay in the US now during the holidays because of their circumstances at home.

According to Lindsay, University of South Florida announced a few weeks ago that it would be running a hybrid programme, meaning that some classes would be conducted face-to-face while others would be held online.

“They said if the class is small, about 30 students, they will hold it in an auditorium where they can observe social distancing. If it's a large class, 100 students, that class will be put online,” he told the Observer.

However, the new guidelines issued on Monday, he said, will determine what classes students choose.

“So if you want to get your degree done quickly and you say 'let me get these classes off' you can no longer pick all of those classes because they might make your visa invalid. So we are waiting very anxiously for a response to the current guideline,” Lindsay said.

The guidelines issued by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) place additional pressure on campuses to reopen, even amid growing concerns about the recent spread of COVID-19 among young adults. Colleges received the guidance the same day that some schools, including Harvard University, announced that all instruction will be offered remotely.

US President Donald Trump has insisted that schools and universities return to face-to-face instruction as soon as possible. After the guidance was released, Trump repeated on Twitter that schools must reopen this fall.

Under the updated rules, international students must take at least some of their classes face-to-face. New visas will not be issued to students at schools or programmes that are entirely online. And even at colleges offering a mix of face-to-face and online courses this fall, international students will be barred from taking all their classes online.

It creates an urgent dilemma for thousands of international students who became stranded in the US last spring after the coronavirus forced their schools to move online. Those attending schools that are staying online must “depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction”, according to the guidelines.

“I don't know what the rest of my year will look like,” Annastazia Chin, who is enrolled at Trinity College in Connecticut, told the Observer yesterday.

“At my school we start in-person but then we go remote, so my concern is once we go remote what is really going to happen?” said Chin who is currently home in Jamaica for the summer.

Chin said she is pursuing a double major in computer science and theatre and dance with a concentration in media and directing, and a minor in writing rhetoric and media.

Jhanelle Davey said she was worried because Howard University, where she is a STEM major on a full scholarship, is doing a hybrid programme.

Davey, who is still in the US, said while she could do some of her courses online, there are some that must be done in-person.

“Some of the classes require personal instruction and specialised software which, if I can't find it online, I have to find the money to purchase it.

“As a senior I was currently in the process of applying to grad school. I got provisional acceptance to one university, so I was like, 'alright then, this is fine. I just need to go and talk to my professors to get a couple of recommendations so I can finish my research and I have to be on campus', but all a dis now is just like, why?” said Davey.

She explained that even if she could do all her courses online in Jamaica, her financial circumstances would make it difficult.

“I have two friends going to Harvard and they were supposed to be at Google now, but that blew up in flames,” she added.

Sainna Christian, a business accounting major at LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis, Tennessee, said her school is not affected by the new guidelines as it is small and as such can effectively enforce social distancing rules.

However, she is still worried.

“If the pandemic gets worse and we are forced to go online, I will quickly have to relocate. It is a huge inconvenience to be worrying about what our future holds as international students,” she told the Observer.

“It is hard enough working overtime to prove that we deserve the opportunities which exist here, and enforcing more stringent rules make it much harder for us to be successful,” she argued.

University of Detroit Mercy scholarship athlete Bonanza Cummings said he must start considering his options. Cummings is thankful that his school has open communication with the students and listens to their concerns.

His university, he said, will be having a hybrid system. However, he added that he was still concerned as most of the classes are migrating to an online platform.

“The hybrid structure is good, but it does more harm than good for international students when it shifts to go 100 per cent online,” he said.

Cummings also said he feared the pandemic will affect the completion of his studies.

He expressed hope of remaining in the US because, he said, he would face connectivity problems if he were to return to Jamaica to complete his degree online.

“Returning will have a negative impact on learning, as most students don't have access to Wi-Fi, and even if we get those megabytes, it would not be able to process so much data, as the data for the apps and sessions are large. It's going to be buffering and it will create a negative environment for learning,” Cummings said.

— Fitsroy Randall

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