Photo courtesy UTEP
The fallout continues after the July 6th announcement from the Department of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that international students attending universities in the United States would be allowed remain in the country only if they are enrolled in face to face courses during the fall semester.
International students I spoke with described these guidelines as a “direct attack” on foreign students in the United States.
The guidelines for those students holders of F-1 (also known as “student” visas) and M-1 nonimmigrant visas stated that they may need to leave the United States if they are enrolled in more than two online courses or if they are only enrolled in programs that are fully online.
In the news release from the ICE Student and Exchange Visitor Program, the solution offered for those students whose classes will be via an online-only format was, “transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status.”
For some students like Alvaro Rivilla that is not an option.
Rivilla is a Cellular and Molecular Biochemistry student at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP); he and his family moved from Spain to the United States four years ago.
“This semester I will take 13 credits (roughly 4 classes and a lab) this is my last year, and I don’t have more classes to take,” Rivilla said. “These rules are unfair, you can’t put 1.5M people through that when they are legally paying tuition to (American) their universities.”
His parents and brother hold L-1 and L-2 visas (commonly known as “work visa” and the L-2 visa is given to spouses and children holders of a “work visa”) and now they are in the process to obtain their green cards.
However, when Rivilla turned 21, he had to switch his status to an F-1 visa – well known as the “student visa”.
“What I hate about this situation is that I am helpless. My family has worked hard to be here, as of today I have spent over $100,000 to get my college degree here in the United States. Despite all the investment and hard work, it seems like this administration wants to kick you out of this country,” he added.
After UTEP released a statement announcing that the institution would work with international students and the university re-adjusted the fall schedule, two of Rivilla’s courses were changed to a hybrid model, which complies with the rule that will allow him to remain in the US.
One UTEP instructor – Dr. Todd Curry – came forward before the university’s statement regarding the new DHS guidelines. “I am happy to offer an independent [study], this title or other, to keep you here, learning, and contributing.” He tweeted last Monday.
Dr. Curry is an associate professor of Political Science at UTEP, he said that he offered the option of an independent study to all students who needed classes to help them stay in the country and comply with the new guidelines.
“We want to make sure the class is meaningful and helping them on their degree plan. I will offer an independent study for students interested in my areas of specialization/expertise, and students that might be in smaller departments or have degree plans that are difficult to accommodate.”
When asked how many students have asked him about the independent study Dr. Curry said, “I have had over 20 students email me directly asking about an independent study. They have been scared, unsure, and hopeful to find a possible solution.”
He added, “Initially, students should contact the Office of International Programs (OIP) first. OIP will in many cases already have solutions depending on departments and colleges, as each student will require an individualized plan, so that they aren’t just taking a class in order to comply with the rule.”
Another UTEP student – who preferred to not disclose their identity – said that both the college and department that they are a part of have worked closely with them to assure that all the options to stay in the country are available and being utilized.
“I am really grateful to my instructors, and the University as a whole,” the student added.
The student, who is originally from a country in Latin America, added that since the border closures, OIP officials were already looking for options if something like this were to happen. However, their concern is still there.
“I am worried about this situation and my future…my home country is not letting anyone in due to the pandemic. Even in the worst-case scenario, I will have to wait until September to even consider coming back to my country, when the airports are scheduled to reopen…”
Yazmin Castruita, a Ph.D. student at the University of Madison-Wisconsin and UTEP graduate, has been part of the American education system throughout her entire life.
She’s been vocal about the struggles of being an international student in the United States and the up-side-down implications of these new rules: “it feels like, as time goes by, it’s more challenging with more barriers.”
“I have been an international student as a whole for 19 years now, one of the biggest impacts is discouraging several international students in pursuing education in the United States,” Castruita added.
Even with UTEP’s support of international students and staff’s work finding alternatives, Rivilla fears the changes to the rules aren’t done yet, and he will have to move back to Spain.
“In my case, if they get stricter I will have to leave the country…this situation will not only affect us at an economic level, like me moving back to Spain but also my family and I will be separated.”
Like Rivilla, Antonio Muñoz has a similar situation and point of view. Muñoz, a Creative Writing major at UTEP, is a Juarez resident whose life and schooling are deeply intertwined with El Paso and the U.S.
“Most of my life is based in the US. I’m afraid that I’ll lose that, and I’m afraid…’cause I’m not sure…everyone has a lot of questions but there aren’t a lot of answers.”
Muñoz says his fears are not new.
“Since I became a student in the U.S., there hasn’t been a year that I’m not afraid they will kick me out of the country.”
As for the reasoning behind the new guidelines, each student has their own ideas.
Rivilla recalled a tweet posted by Donald Trump the same day ICE released the new rules for international students, “Schools must open in the fall.” He believes that all of this is part of a plan drafted by the Trump Administration to force universities to reopen their doors in the fall for in-person instruction.
Muñoz expressed that this event has served an excuse to perpetuate discrimination in the United States.
“[This] is an attempt to politicize a worldwide event into an excuse for discrimination.”