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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

International student ruling may have lasting effects

Now rescinded, students and experts discuss the impact of the directive

By Shannon Steffens

On July 6, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that international college students would not be issued visas to stay in the U.S. if they were taking all online classes in the fall. On July 14, after public outcry and a lawsuit filed by Harvard and MIT, for which Western Washington University filed an amicus brief, ICE rescinded the ruling.

This ruling shocked many. Richard Bruce, director of Western’s International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS), said it came out of nowhere.

“It was just one more thing that singled out international students for all the wrong reasons,” said Bruce. “It was just cruel, really.”

Bruce noted the outpouring of support the ISSS received from students, faculty, staff and the administration. He said it was heartening to see.

Mavis Yao is a fourth-year design major, an international student from China and an ISSS peer advisor. She said she saw the news and could not believe it.

Mavis Yao, fourth-year student and design major, stands in front of trees. Yao has lived in the U.S. for over ten years and was shocked at the ruling. // Courtesy of Mavis Yao
Mavis Yao, fourth-year student and design major, stands in front of trees. Yao has lived in the U.S. for over ten years and was shocked at the ruling. // Courtesy of Mavis Yao

Yao said it negatively affected her mood and greatly increased her stress.

“For the summer, some students may be planning to go back to their countries,” Yao said. “If they have already gotten their ticket, they might have to cancel their trip because of worries that they wouldn’t be able to enter the U.S. later.”

The most common visa for international students is the F-1 visa. This allows a non-immigrant student to live in the U.S. while attending an academic institution.

“As long as we are here, we are the same as other people here, like U.S. citizens,” said James Jang, a fourth-year finance major, ISSS peer advisor and international student from Korea. “We have a right to learn what we want to learn.”

The ruling would have required international students to take at least one in-person class in order to stay in the U.S. This was especially concerning due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, said Megan Phillips, an ISSS peer advisor and 2020 graduate who double-majored in French and Spanish.

“This decision means that [students] have to put their health in jeopardy,” said Phillips. “And some of them would have to sign up for [in-person] classes that are completely irrelevant to their major. … It’s kind of ridiculous.”

Although the ruling was rescinded, Bruce said it is an example of the Trump administration’s negative attitude toward immigration.

Héctor E. Quiroga, an immigration attorney at Quiroga Law Office, has been working with immigration law for over a decade. Since Trump’s election, he said many cases he works with are denied despite the person meeting all the legal criteria to immigrate to the U.S.

 Igor Ribeiro Dias, fourth-year student and international business major, sits on a rock at the beach. Ribeiro Dias returned to Brazil in March and is worried he won’t be able to return to the U.S. to walk at his graduation in winter. // Courtesy of Igor Ribeiro Dias
Igor Ribeiro Dias, fourth-year student and international business major, sits on a rock at the beach. Ribeiro Dias returned to Brazil in March and is worried he won’t be able to return to the U.S. to walk at his graduation in winter. // Courtesy of Igor Ribeiro Dias

“If the signature touches the box [surrounding the space for a signature], then that’s a reason for denial,” Quiroga said. “There are people who don’t have a middle name, and sometimes if you don’t write a middle name, they’ll deny it because you don’t have one.”

Quiroga also mentioned the potential repercussions on the economy if this directive had continued. International students pay three to four times more than in-state students for tuition. If many international students had dropped out, he said, there would have been an impact on the economy of public colleges and the country.

Igor Ribeiro Dias, a fourth-year student and international business major, said he has some privilege because often people don’t see him as an international student until they hear his accent.

“I wouldn’t say [people] look down on me,” Ribeiro Dias said. “Sometimes they just misjudge my intelligence.”

He returned to his hometown of São Paulo, Brazil, in March after the campus closed. While he is currently out of the U.S., he worried about the international students who could be deported.

Brazilians (or anyone who has spent more than 14 days in Brazil) are not allowed to travel to the U.S.

“I hope to get back to Washington state in winter, because I do want to walk at my graduation,” Ribeiro Dias said.

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