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How COVID is Impacting International Students

Published August 5, 2020

Hear from our current student, Franco Mirolo, about how immigration and travel policies related to COVID impact him and other international students who are studying in the United States.

As many of you already know, an announcement made by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on July 6 disrupted the academic expectations for many international students residing in the U.S. Thousands of foreign students in America were affected by the unexpected and unpleasant decision to withdraw the exception put in place in March, by which foreign students were allowed to remain in the country after most universities adopted a distance learning model.

By withdrawing this exception:

  • Many students were required to leave the country by the end of August, and many others would have been forced to leave during the fall semester in the event that universities were forced to resort to remote-only learning, as happened last spring.
  • This announcement generated chaos among students, universities, and staff in a time where (more) uncertainty was not needed.

Most international students have moved to this country in pursuit of their careers and aspirations, and being forcibly uprooted in the middle of their programs was not a trivial matter. Our lives have become bound to where we are studying and we could have lost so much more than a brief statement from ICE presumed. In most cases, it meant disrupting our education for which we worked so hard, pausing our network connections that were difficult to build, leaving behind friends and personal relationships that we made, and risking the career that we have always dreamed of.

For many students, moving back home and continuing their education in a similar manner is not an option. Most countries have closed their borders or shut down airports, making travel almost impossible. Many students would have not had the same resources back in their home country as here; some would have lacked a viable internet connection, others would have not had access to books and other materials that coursework requires, and some would have returned to environments afflicted by issues making it unsuitable for higher education, such as abusive home lives, conflict zones, or areas of widespread poverty.

Fortunately:

  • Universities and other student organizations came together to fight this unfair policy. Two days after it was issued, Harvard and MIT filed a lawsuit seeking to declare this rule illegal, and more than fifty universities filed an amicus brief in support of that litigation. Along similar lines, more than a dozen states sued the agency as well.
  • Other universities, like UB, immediately checked on their international student body and gave as many answers as they had, and took measures to assure that every student who wished to remain in the country had the option to take in-person or hybrid classes.

Less than a week after the guidance was issued, DHS settled the litigation with Harvard and MIT. The Department agreed to withdraw this policy, and maintain the exception that was put in place in March. This expedited settlement was a result of the effort made by universities, states, students, faculty, and staff who jointly contributed to put an end to this injustice. I am beyond thankful for the actions taken by everyone who, in one way or another, joined this fight. Once again, it has been proven through our actions these past weeks that united we stand.

Have questions for Franco? Check out his student ambassador profile for more information.

Franco Mirolo '21.

Franco Mirolo '21 is an Advanced Standing Two-Year J.D. student.  He holds an LL.B from Universidad Nacional de Cordoba in Argentina and an LL.M in Intellectual Property from OBS Business School - Universitat de Barcelona in Spain.

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