By Rachel Witherspoon
Under normal circumstances, international students, who in 2018 contributed $45 billion to the US economy, are not able to take more than one online course per semester without being in violation of their visa requirements.
In the middle of a global pandemic, these are not normal circumstances.
Due to the ongoing pandemic and its projections for the fall, many universities announced they will be offering only online classes for the upcoming fall semester, while others have announced hybrid models, and others have yet to announce their plans despite the semester starting in a mere 6-8 weeks. Initially, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), who runs the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), announced that international students cannot take a course load taught completely online this fall; if their school had switched to an online-only format, they had to either transfer or self-deport. The same rules applied even if the university started out with in-person classes but was forced to change at any point during the semester.
The order has since been rescinded, however, it had many supporters. This article aims at addressing some of the many problems international students would have faced under the order and why Americans should not have supported it.
While there are many problems related to sending international students to their home countries during the midst of a pandemic, the problems are most glaring for students forced to return to socialist countries such as Venezuela. According to the Institute of International Education, 7,760 international students from Venezuela studied in America for the 2018/19 school year.
One of those students is Daniel Di Martino who is expecting to start his PhD in economics at Columbia University this fall. Fortunately for Daniel, his family has since moved to Spain and he also has Spanish citizenship. This means that if he was forced to self-deport, he would go to Spain as he no longer has a home to return to in Venezuela. However, even in Spain, he foresees many problems, mainly coronavirus. Sadly, his entire family has contracted the virus and two months ago, he lost his grandfather to it. He fears that he would inevitably contract it and worries about the quality of the medical care he would receive. Among the other problems he anticipates is his inability to continue his work going on TV talking about the problems of socialism he saw firsthand in Venezuela, complications in returning to the US, financial stability, and the logistics of upending his entire life. Daniel says, “The people who wrote this policy have made it clear their goal is not to benefit America, but to keep foreigners out at all costs”.
Students who would be forced to return to Venezuela would face not only a dangerous political regime and police brutality, but they will be forced to depend on a dilapidated healthcare system. Venezuela has struggled for years to maintain an adequate supply of medical supplies and is suffering more than ever in the midst of the pandemic. Some hospitals even face severe water shortages; I don’t think I need to explain to anyone how dangerous and impractical that is. The hospitals are overrun with COVID-19 patients and many are no longer accepting patients with any other ailments.
While in America, there are precautions that can be taken so that one can essentially quarantine from the outside world completely with the aid of capitalist inventions such as grocery delivery services and adequate housing with an internet connection to complete online courses, the same cannot be said in socialist Venezuela. For starters, Venezuelans suffer from widespread food shortages and starvation due to the government takeover of the food supply. They often find themselves having to wait in bread lines that are miles long in the hopes that the bakery has not run out of bread before they reach it. Most spend many hours in those lines as well as the lines into the government supermarkets, where the supply is short and the selection even shorter. Needless to say, such an environment to expose oneself to for hours with the hope of leaving with a somewhat nutritious and decent food supply for themself and their family, undoubtedly raises their risk of contracting coronavirus. Thus, relenting themselves to the harmful realities of a serious illness while starvation simultaneously rampages their body. Worse still, they are at the mercy of the Venezuelan healthcare system we have already discussed.
Leaving the multifaceted topic of health in Venezuela, there is another problem in socialist Venezuela that international students participating in online classes would have to bear with: frequent intermittent and prolonged blackouts across the country. The electrical grid is operated by the government, which has failed to provide stabilization of power. While these unpredictable outages would most certainly cause serious complications with students’ online courses, they also cause other serious problems. The most serious problem is limiting the water supply as many pumps rely on electrical power.
For those who have spent their entire lives living in capitalist America, as I have, I understand that these realities are not just difficult to hear, but truly arduous to understand. Unfortunately, these are just a few of the endless harrowing conditions people living in socialist countries like Venezuela have to endure each day. That is why it is so crucial we stand up in support of international students and their fight to stay in America.
The United States of America is a country made from immigrants; to accept and help them through the legal channels on the pathways toward potential citizenship, is the American way. Their future is directly tied to America’s future and it's up to us, in which direction we will steer it.
About Rachel Witherspoon
Rachel Witherspoon is a young American graduate student with a passion for utilizing the knowledge found in economics, business, and political science to help others. She is a fierce advocate for America and an even bigger advocate for the First Amendment.