How safe is Boston for international students

USA: "A lot of stress and anxiety" for foreign students

When Carlos Enrique Ibarra saw the first Facebook post from a friend on Monday about the new rules for online courses, he wasn't worried. Both Ibarra and the author of the post are foreign students at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque - the final year of Ibarra's academic year that he plans to complete with a doctorate in Hispanic linguistics begins in about a month. The Mexican doctoral student assumed that his girlfriend was complaining on Facebook about the university's new requirements for the coming fall semester. But over the course of the day more and more friends shared articles on the same topic and Ibarra found out that it was not about university regulations, but about an announcement by the immigration and customs authorities ICE - and thus possibly about his future.

The US immigration authorities announced on Monday the end of an exception that came into force with the start of the Corona crisis. Normally, young men and women from abroad are only issued a student visa to the United States if they choose courses that require them to appear in person in the classroom.

In the pandemic, during which practically all universities switched their teaching to online courses, this hard rule did not apply so far. From one day to the next, practically all face-to-face teaching was abolished, but students from abroad were allowed to complete their semester despite online-only learning. In the US higher education world, it was previously assumed that this exemption would continue to apply. After all, the health risk posed by the coronavirus is far from over, especially not in the USA.

But on Monday the ICE declared the exception to be over. For the fall semester, which begins at most US universities in August, the following applies: Foreign students who can only take online courses due to the pandemic are not allowed to continue their studies in the USA and have to leave the country.

Expulsion after more than 20 years in the US?

Ibarra has lived in the United States for almost 25 years but is not a citizen

He understood what was at stake: "I was starting to get scared," says Ibarra. The linguist is working towards his PhD in his sixth year but has previously completed other degrees in the United States and has worked as a researcher and lecturer at various universities across the country. Overall, he has lived in the USA for almost 25 years. For Ibarra, the United States is his home, not Mexico, his country of birth. The news about the strict regulation unsettled the doctoral student profoundly. "I was seriously worried about my future."

During the night from Monday to Tuesday, Ibarra hardly slept at all. As a doctoral student last year, he no longer had any courses in the actual sense, but instead consultation hours with professors from his field of study. Should he have to pack his bags now?

Harvard and MIT are suing

All foreign students at the renowned Harvard University ask themselves this question. The highly respected traditional university on the outskirts of Boston will offer courses exclusively online in the coming semester due to the corona pandemic. Those who are enrolled at the university with a foreign passport are therefore subject to the ICE regulations and should theoretically have to abandon their tents in the USA within the next few weeks.

But Harvard doesn't want to let its international students down that easily. Together with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the university is suing the US government's regulation. Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow said the sudden end of the exception was politically motivated and a way of forcing universities to offer classroom courses "regardless of the health and safety of students, educators and others."

Namesake John Harvard wears mask. Harvard University is also cautious and will only offer online courses in the coming semester

"You belong here"

Other universities in the US have also promised to assist their overseas students. The president of the Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey, wrote to his students on Thursday: "To our international students, I want to assure you that the seminary will do everything in its power to ensure that you continue your studies here ... You belong here. "

Lena Zwarg starts her second year of master’s degree at the theological seminar in August. The student from Baden-Württemberg is confident that she will be able to continue studying in the USA, as Princeton Theological Seminary offers a so-called hybrid program: some of her courses will take place online, others with a maximum of 10 students "live" on site. Nevertheless, Zwarg has no understanding of the regulation.

Ordinary normality

In an emergency, she herself can travel back to Germany at short notice and continue her studies online from her parents' house. But not all students who are now facing a forced departure would be so lucky. According to Zwarg, some students have no one in their home country to stay with. "Many people don't even have the money to buy a plane ticket at such short notice," says the student. "It's a lot of stress and fear of not knowing what to do next."

The short-term announcement of the rule for foreign students once again makes it clear: US President Donald Trump wants to return to normal as soon as possible so as not to jeopardize his re-election. Strict coronavirus restrictions are a thorn in his side. He announced this week that schools should open normally again after the summer vacation. While this goes directly against the advice of his health experts, Trump still announced that he would turn off the money in school districts in which classes would only take place on certain days of the week in the classroom. The expulsion of foreign students also fits into a scheme of tough anti-immigration regulations that the Trump administration introduced or tightened under Corona.

Studying as a tightrope act

Carlos Enrique Ibarra is allowed to continue studying here

Ibarra found out on Tuesday evening that he will not be affected by the regulation and will be allowed to continue his studies in the United States. The six hours of counseling he has per week are officially classed as face-to-face classes and not online, even if in reality he will spend some of the time talking on the phone or video chatting.

The doctoral student is relieved - but still frustrated. He says the end of the exception is another obstacle for international students in the US who are already facing enormous bureaucratic hurdles. "If you are here with a student visa, the situation is anything but stable," says Ibarra. "You're just trying to get through the next semester. It's like balancing on a tightrope that the US students don't have to worry about."