As coronavirus (COVID-19), rapidly spreads around the world and gets closer to the University of New Hampshire (UNH), the future is unclear. With students from 70 different countries and making up 5.13 percent of the UNH population, many are faced with the question of if it will be safe for them to return to their home country at the end of the semester.
UNH has been communicating with students since the return from winter break at the end of January and has been sending multiple email updates to the community on the health and well-being of students and staff, according to the OISS office. The virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, first appeared in December of 2019 but did not make headlines until about mid-January. Since then, students studying abroad in China, South Korea and Italy have all been required to return to the U.S. due to travel restrictions that have impacted the countries.
This raises concern for international students studying at UNH and what it could mean for them as the cases continue to climb globally. If the virus continues to progress at this rate, it could cause some difficulty for international students who might want to go home for the summer at the end of the semester.
Louise Veltman, from Dijon, France, is a teaching assistant for French 401 and 402 and feels as though UNH is not taking the right precautions and is worried about what might happen to her abroad experience if UNH were to close.
Gillissen “Gigi” Green is the academic transition and integration advisor at the Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) and has been dealing firsthand with international students on campus who are concerned with how the virus may impact their academics. She made clear that she is not an expert in immigration but that her role is “around supporting the academic success of our international students as a resource outside of academic advising.” Green said that among the international students, there is less anxiety than expected when it comes to the current state of the world and that her fear was that there would be discrimination against students but the “office hasn’t heard of instances where students felt directly targeted.”
The only issue that had risen to date was that there were a few instances in resident halls where some had requested a housing reassignment and some students were made to feel uncomfortable, but that the university had not had any reported incidents of discrimination, racism or xenophobia against international students in relation to COVID-19.
As for resources provided for international students besides OISS, Green said that they “have a message on the website” and remind students to get travel signatures on their immigration documents that are required by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement so UNH knows what their plans are in order to be cautious.
“Our concern is that if a student were to travel and they were trying to come back into the country and things could evolve and change while they were out there and we wouldn’t want them to be stuck out there,” Green said.
Green said that remains to be seen what will happen come the end of the semester and if students will choose to stay home or take classes to accelerate their degree if they can afford it.
“I think the university is going to do everything they can to be flexible and supportive of students,” Green said.
The Stanford Daily reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that despite F-1 students (full-time academic international students) only being allowed to count one online class towards their studies in the U.S., “international students now taking online classes will not be at risk of losing their visa.”
In terms of what universities are required to do in the event of switching to online, the DHS Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) requires they “report procedural changes to SEVP within 10 business days of the change,” so international students can maintain their F-1 status. Green said that while it needs to be done, it can be difficult to ensure that they are reporting for all international students and constantly updating their information as things change.
Henry Amery, a junior music major originally from Wales, studying at UNH as part of the exchange program from Cardiff University, expressed slight concern at the way UNH has been handling communication with international students.
“I think if anything there’s been a lot of [friends at UNH] checking if I’m okay, I’ve been a bit surprised by the lack of communication from the international office here, but I’ve gotten a few emails from Cardiff University back home,” he said.
Amery’s main concern is if he would be receiving credit for the time he is here if UNH were to close for the semester and that he would not have the funding to go home early due to spending his life savings to have the opportunity to study here.
Amery also addressed that he and his other friends have not been receiving the email updates being sent out by UNH Police Chief Paul Dean, so they are feeling left in the dark. After communicating this with Green and OISS, the office reached out to students to make sure they would be receiving communication from now on.
“We are doing our best to communicate clearly what we know to our international students,” said Green. “I think UNH is trying to do its best to adapt and take care of students.”