Impacts of COVID-19 on International Students in the US
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Last updated - 06:22 PM
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According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, international students in the U.S. have contributed $45 billion to the economy in 2018. The total number of international students in the USA was 1,095,299 according to the 2019 Open Doors Report on the International Educational Exchange and makeup 5.5 percent of the total U.S. higher education population. Open Doors 2019 also reports that about 62 percent of all international students receive the majority of their funds from sources outside of the United States, including personal and family sources as well as assistance from their home country governments or universities.


International Students in the USA have to abide by certain rules and regulations to keep their F-1 status valid. They are allowed to work for 12months in their Optional Practical Training (OPT). When international students file for their Post-completion OPT after graduation and get their Employment Authorization Card, they are usually allowed a total of 90 days of unemployment from the day their card has been issued. With the lockdown being in effect, most companies are laying off their employees, let alone hire more. If a student is not able to get a job within that 90 day period, they have to return to their home countries. 


As in-person classes have switched to online classes, libraries have closed, and students have been asked to leave dorms for safety purposes, the impacts of these decisions have been tremendous for these students mentally if not only physically. 


While most international students stay in dorms, there are many who share apartments off-campus with other students. Students who bear their expenses by working on campus are worried about how to pay their rent now and afford basic necessities. We decided to interview some international students who are away from home during this crisis, to see how they are being affected and what measures they are taking to deal with this crisis.  


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Shehzad (current student), Hofstra University

Q: How do you think the spread of COVID-19 and being on lockdown will impact you as an international student? 

A: “Students at my university have been advised to leave the dorms and stay with friends or family, so a lot of my friends who are international students have gone back to their home countries, and those who did not have anywhere to go are being allowed to stay in the dorms, with their meal plans staying active. I’m worried that if I get infected, there is no one to take care of me, and I’m not sure if my insurance is going to cover the costs. I used to work on campus, and that used to help me earn some money to get by, but since colleges have been closed, I haven’t been able to work, which has definitely taken a financial toll on me. It’s hard for my parents to send me money from abroad since my home country is in lockdown too. My parents are as worried about me as I am about them, and that has affected me mentally as well.”


Q: Do you think it will affect your chances of getting a job/internship as an international student? 

A: "It’s hard enough as it is to land an internship in the US being an international student. On top of that this crisis has left over 6 million people unemployed and crippling with debt. When this pandemic cools over, there will be millions of Americans looking for jobs and that’ll make it even harder for people like me to find work since we’re usually the last pick of the bunch. I’m about to graduate soon so I’m extremely worried that the chances of me landing a job post-graduation are almost slim to none.”

 

Naif (current student), University of Toledo

Q: How has the COVID-19 lockdown affected you as an international student?

“As an international student,  COVID-19 has affected both my financial and emotional state. As my university has started remote education, I lost my only source of income and am wondering how I am going to stay here paying all these expenses. As an international student, I can't even go home to Bangladesh because international travel isn't recommended at all. Staying all by myself here 8000 miles away from my family in this pandemic is stressful. Who's gonna take care of me if I fall sick? Back home, my mom. Here, None!”Question: How did the COVID-19 lockdown affect you as an international student?


 Karishma (Post-completion OPT), Baruch College 

Q: How has the lockdown affected your post-completion OPT/ Job opportunities?

A:  "Job hunting itself is a daunting task, and when you are an international student, there are more difficulties in it. Like every other international student, finding a job that would sponsor me was extremely difficult. However, with all the hardship, stress and vigorous search, I finally landed my dream job. I started my job on March 15th, signed all the paperwork, got enrolled in the payroll and signed off my sponsorship forms. Three days into work, the pandemic hit NY. On the fourth day, we were asked to start working from home. I woke up on the 19th of March and got an email stating how all the courts were going to be closed as of then and all USCIS proceedings would be at a halt until further notice. My heart dropped. After all this time, when I had finally started my work and my H1 Visa was about to be extended, the court closed its door. It’s hard to know that the extensions will be delayed until the end of May. The added stress of it being delayed, or even being canceled due to the COVID-19 affected fiscal year drop of the market is extremely scary. My company has assured me my job but as of now, I’m on an Involuntary Leave Of Absence. This pandemic has not only affected my work status but also my sanity and mental health. I hope we all can get over it and come back stronger than ever."


Nanzeeba (Post-completion OPT), Stony Brook University 

Q: How has the lockdown affected you as an international student?

A: "I am an international post-undergraduate student working as an associate researcher, at Feinstein Institute of Medical Research. I am on STEM OPT which requires me to work and report onsite, given my job description. Being a medical and bench researcher, my options for work from home are limited and I’m worried about whether this lockdown will impact my immigration status since I cannot report to work. Financially, the concern I have is that since I cannot report to work, my workplace can suspend my pay, and living in New York with entry-level pay is difficult in itself, let alone save, so it’s not like I can pay my bills from my savings. "


Labiba (Current student), CUNY Baruch College:

Q: How has the lockdown affected you as an international student?


A: “I had it all planned out. I would do my internship this year and when I graduate next year, it would help me land a job for my OPT with the work experience I would get from my internship. After spending days applying to internships, and a few rounds of interviews, I finally landed an internship that I was really looking forward to. But before I could start, the state went on lockdown, and there’s a high chance that I might not get this internship anymore. I’m also struggling with a class that recently switched to online, and I wish I could drop that course since it’s hard to learn the basics of that class online. I can’t go to my professor to teach me hands-on or go to the tutoring center at my university. If I drop this class, I will go below 12 credits, which will impact my status as an international student, since we are required to be enrolled in a minimum of 12 credits at least to maintain our status as full-time students.

Going back to my country is not an option right now since my home country is affected too and I’ll be exposing myself to a lot of people on the flight. If I get infected by any chance, I might be passing it onto my elderly parents, which is a risk I am not willing to take.  Overall, this situation has been really stressful for me.” 


Atiqa (Post-Completion OPT)CUNY Baruch College

Q: How has the lockdown affected you as an international student?

A: As an international student and a non-STEM major, we are allowed only 12 months of OPT. It was extremely difficult for me to find a job, so I was doing an internship with the hope that it would turn into a full-time job, or even if it didn’t, I could use the experience to apply elsewhere. As the duration of my internship came close to an end, all my interviews for jobs got canceled due to the pandemic. There’s a high chance that I have to return back to my country soon because it’s going to be even more difficult for me now to get a job in such a short time. Even on regular days when I would get calls to schedule interviews from places I applied to, and I mentioned I am an international student, they would say sorry and hang up. Now after so many layoffs in the USA and with the amount of time I will have left on my employment authorization card, it will be next to impossible for me to get hired. So it seems like my dream of working here in the USA after spending so much time and money on an undergraduate degree has been crushed. I wish they would give us some sort of extension at least now. 


As the country went into lockdown, the worries of these students began to increase. They were concerned about how to deal with the coronavirus as international students, and whether to stay or go, and with the travel plan being placed into effect, they not only got concerned about their accommodation, but also about their legal immigration status in the US, and whether their insurance would cover the costs in case they get infected. 


International students are often required to have health insurance, even though different schools have different requirements. Some of the insurance providers for international students have stated that they will cover the costs of the COVID-19 testing on their websites, ISO being one of them.  ISO has stated on their website for their members that their plan provides coverage for sickness and injury including Coronavirus and that Coronavirus related pre-tests and treatments that are medically necessary will be covered as any other sickness according to the member’s plan benefits.


With campus tours being canceled, prospective students are worried about how to choose between colleges they have been accepted to. Students who were supposed to graduate this year are worried about whether their commencement will still take place, and whether their families will be able to attend it. In fact, it’s not only the students who are losing sleep over the pandemic. Their families and relatives from overseas are also concerned about how these students will deal with the situation by themselves and about their safety. 


To top it all off, international students are finding it hard to get proper information about the changes in the policies now, if there are any. Even though The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has stated flexible adjustments on student visas and updated their rules about certain cases such as remote learning and traveling, it depends on how different international student offices in different colleges are interpreting them, which are leaving the students in a state of dilemma about what to do.  


It seems like the spread of COVID-19 has these international students not only worried about their health, but also about their chances of getting a job or keeping one, food, their immigration status, and most importantly, the uncertainty of having a roof over their head. 


Here are some useful links for answers to common concerns during COVID 19 for international students: 

Does Health Insurance for International Students in the USA Cover Coronavirus Test?

US universities' coronavirus plans for international students

Top 10 Best International Student Health Insurance Companies

COVID-19: What international students in the US should know

SEVP COVID-19 FAQs

ICE- Frequently Asked Questions for SEVP Stakeholders about COVID-19

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