By Alexandra Tolmasov
As college students, we are often told that we are the future leaders of society, the people that will make history. Unfortunately, the year 2020 has left many students feeling as though they are not the ones making history, but rather the ones being subjected to it. This feeling of despair is especially familiar to international students today.
On July 6, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued guidelines, according to which international students attending schools operating entirely online would no longer have valid visas; these students must leave the United States (U.S.) if they are currently there and are barred from entering the US if they are currently abroad. This sudden change has sent shock waves around the world and has left many people feeling hopeless. It left many international students feeling trapped in countries they do not consider home anymore and unwelcome in the country that they do consider home, the U.S. This directive would have forced foreign students to stay in countries with time zones that are unbearable to work in, countries with unreliable or state-managed internet, and countries with armed conflicts.
Luckily, on July 14, the U.S. reversed the new policy on student visas after a high-profile lawsuit with Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Thus, one might think that this horrifying situation has come to an end when in reality, it is far from it. The U.S. government agreed to rescind the July 6 directive; however, incoming freshmen are still not allowed to enter the country. In an email sent out to all YU international students on July 17, the university stated that new students will have to begin their studies from outside the U.S. and will be able to apply to enter the U.S. in January 2021 to continue their studies on-campus.
Moreover, there is still a huge question of whether or not international students will be able to come to the U.S., even if the U.S. allows them to enter. Flights are extremely limited and U.S. consulate offices, where students go for an in-person interview to either get or renew their visas, are closed — it is unclear when they will reopen.
It is undeniable that the July 6 directive has left wounds in the hearts of many international students. A lot of us decided to come to the U.S. because we did not feel like we belonged in our home countries; now we do not feel like we belong in the U.S. either. Most of us come to the U.S. wide eyed, believing that this country is the pinnacle of opportunity and acceptance. These naive ideas have been shattered.
The reversal of the policy did very little to heal these wounds, since the main reason the July 6 directive was rescinded is that the U.S. administration realized the economic hit the country would suffer if international students did not return. Foreign students play a huge role in the U.S. gross domestic product, from paying tuition to supporting local businesses. There are more than one million international college students in the U.S. and most of them pay full tuition which stems 45 billion dollars a year just from school cost. However, despite what the U.S. administration believes, we are not just a number, not just a graduation diploma, not just a dollar sign. We are people with rich cultures and profound intellects and we bring much more to the table than just economic growth. For instance, many international students are risking their lives at this very moment, during the pandemic, in order to help Americans in need, from volunteering at homeless shelters to delivering groceries to the elderly.
Unfortunately, the case of international students in the U.S. is not closed and it is unknown if ICE has abandoned its position or has retreated in order to fight another day. Therefore, there is a looming fear that the administration will return with a revised rule; the directives might change any day and no one knows what to expect.
In these uncertain times, it is hard for many young adults to believe that they will be the ones to make history. How can someone build the future of society if they do not even have control over their own life? The reality is, no one has full control over their life. Some have the privilege to be born in the U.S. and some do not; that is not something that we can control. However, there are things we have control over. We can choose to be aware of injustice and we can choose to speak up when we see it. We can choose to support each other as best as we can. Most importantly, we can choose not to take an example from the U.S. administration and be more empathetic today, in order to build a better world for tomorrow.
Photo: International students at an International Club event