For many WVU students, the possibility of fall courses being moved online might not be ideal. However, for more than 1,500 international students, it would mean deportation.
“The way the government is handling this situation is they are closing their doors to international students,” said Juan Marino, a sophomore industrial engineering student from Ecuador. “We are not the problem.”
During the 2020 spring and summer semesters, exemptions were provided that allowed international students to remain in the United States even if their university’s program moved online due to COVID-19.
Because the Student Exchange and Visitors Program, a subdivision of ICE, recently changed this exemption, students must be enrolled in at least one in-person course to stay in the United States. If WVU were to move fully online again, international students would no longer be legally permitted to stay in the country.
Marino is not the only international student fearful their time at WVU might be cut short. Kaoru Shiraishi, a senior management information systems student from Japan, said there is no way to know when or if he will be asked to leave.
“We cannot anticipate when it is going to come,” Shiraishi said. “I think most international students want to take in-person classes, but now is not the time.”
Amy Thompson, a professor and chair of WVU's world languages, literatures and linguistics department, said in the event that COVID-19 cases begin to spike, trying to help all international students leave the country safely would be difficult.
“They may not have a place to live if they go back home, borders might be closed, flights are canceled, I mean, there is a whole range of logistical issues,” Thompson said.
Upon returning to their home countries, Thompson said students would also face logistical issues of their own. She said these include time-zone differences, which would make it difficult for them to attend Zoom courses scheduled for specific times of the day.
“Japan is 13 hours ahead,” Thompson said. “If a class is at 3 p.m. here, it is 4 a.m. for students in Japan. That is not a reasonable expectation of students to attend classes in the middle of the night.”
Thompson said this policy not only has the potential to compromise the success of international students. She said it could leave undergraduate students without an instructor if international graduate assistants have to leave mid-semester.
Because of the University’s current plan to use a hybrid-course model, international students are not currently at risk for losing their visas. However, Thompson said one of her current concerns is that this policy might cause international students to feel unwelcome.
“The message I am trying to get to our students is that we want you here, we appreciate you, you are an integral part of what we do [and] we couldn’t do what we do without you,” she said.
Because some international students went home for the summer, many are currently unable to return to the United States due to borders being closed or other circumstances due to COVID-19. Henry Oliver, director of global advancement, said the WVU Office of Global Affairs is working closely with students one-on-one to help make sure they can complete their courses whether in the United States or abroad.
“We are also hopeful that by fall the situation will have improved and we will be able to have more students coming in from places where they are currently not able to,” he said.