Eastern Michigan University international student Nigora Erkaeva was planning to graduate this December with a Ph.D. in Educational Studies when the sudden Trump-visa policy was announced, putting her dreams to an abrupt halt.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced new measures on Tuesday, July 7, that would strip international college students of their U.S. visas if their coursework was entirely online for the upcoming fall semester. In a time where many universities are transitioning to online instruction, these new changes left many students panicked and confused.
The White House initiative was seen as an effort to pressure schools into prioritizing the reopening of their campuses over health and safety approaches they may have previously promised to adopt. Schools are juggling both health and revenue concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic as they determine whether classes will be held in-person, online, or in a hybrid model in the fall.
EMU is among almost 60 U.S. universities to file a court brief supporting Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in a case the colleges brought in opposition to the new visa rules.
“When I first saw the headline, the first thing I felt was panic. There were so many things going through my head,” Erkeava told the Echo.
She first came to Eastern Michigan University from Tajikistan in 2010 to pursue her master's degree in teacher education. She has spent the past decade in the U.S. building her education and family. Erkeava said President Trump’s new visa policy puts not only her residency at risk but also her health.
“The policy puts international students at risk of contracting this virus easily, too. It’s more travel...and what about those that have been studying here longer?” Erkeava said.
Erkaeva says the health risks of these laws are only a slivered portion of the problem. Her two children are also in the U.S. with her, attending school through a Michigan education system.
“It’s not safe,” Erkeava said. "My children only know this culture and they are a product of this culture. What am I supposed to do with them? For them?”
ICE may be attempting to dramatically reduce the number of international students enrolling in American universities in the fall. Combined with delays in processing visas due to the pandemic, immigration officials warn that many international students may be too discouraged to enroll, where they generally pay full tuition.
“The financial repercussions to institutions are potentially very traumatic,” Daniel J. Hurley, chief executive of the Michigan Association of State Universities, said in a press release.
The Michigan Association of State Universities represents the state’s public universities. Hurley’s studies cite that 33,236 international students contributed $1.2 billion to Michigan’s economy in 2018.
Najd Al Jarba, an undergraduate student in the International Business and Marketing program, says she struggled for over a month to return to her home nation of Jordan when the coronavirus pandemic shut down schools across the U.S. in March.
“I was planning to go back for the fall semester, but I really don’t know what’s gonna happen now. Our borders are still closed, our airports are still closed,“ Al Jarba said.
Al Jarba is one of the thousands of international students to experience complications during an attempt to return to or depart a home nation.
On Wednesday, July 8, EMU President James Smith released a campus-wide email statement promising to “continue to evaluate the best ways to support [EMU’S] international students so that they may continue their education in this country safely."
“The recently announced policy change by ICE runs counter to our efforts to support international students, who bring great diversity of thought, culture and perspective to our campus community and to our classrooms,” the statement read. “We are proud to have them as part of our campus community. EMU is supportive of the growing national effort to stop this new policy and will continue to advocate strongly on behalf of international students at EMU and at colleges and universities across the nation.”
EMU has continuously shown support for its international student population, as evidenced by the 100 light post banners around campus and the 80-foot mural entitled “You Are Welcome Here” with images of international students and flags of their home nations.
Just knowing that they’re working on it and care about it and that we’re not left to handle this by ourselves is really nice,” said Erkaeva referencing the statements of support international students received from EMU and the Office for International Students and Scholars.
“I think that this pandemic really showed us that we are all interconnected, despite borders or countries,” Al Jarba said. “People have the same needs. And I think that’s something that needs to be evaluated when officials make decisions like this.”