María Jóse Morán, a junior international student who attends Southern Adventist University on student-visa, faced a dilemma as the university began transitioning to online instruction for the remainder of the semester.
On March 12, she received an email ordering students to be completely moved out of the dorms and Southern Village apartments in less than two weeks in response to the spread of COVID-19. The date has since been changed to March 23.
Although the school describes the decision as an attempt to keep students safe and healthy, many international students are faced with challenges in regard to housing and employment. “My first reaction was, ‘Well, where am I gonna go?” said Morán, a student from Honduras. “If I can’t go home, where am I gonna go [in the United States]? I have nowhere to go.”
With the move-out deadline in place, international students fear possibly returning to their home countries as travel restrictions harshen, along with not having a convenient place to live in the United States if they stay.
“International students cannot be out of the country for more than five months,” Morán said. “If you leave, your visa can run out [and] you might need to get it again. So, I was nervous….like, ‘Well, if I go home, will I be allowed back in?’ Or, ‘If I go home, will my visa expire?’”
Morán was supposed to return to Honduras on Tuesday morning. Her father had purchased flights home for her and her sophomore brother, Juan Morán. However, by Monday night, Honduras closed its borders to non-Honduran citizens causing airlines to cancel their international flights. Therefore, even though the Morans are Honduran citizens and are allowed back into their country, there are no flights back home.
According to Administration and Associate Director of Enrollment Management Kent Robertson, the university is allowing students to stay in on-campus housing on a case-by-case basis.
“This is a situation we’ve never been in,” Robertson said. “But there is a process that we’ll find out, and we’ll kind of all learn about together. And I do know, specifically, that international students are given special consideration in regards to the case-by-case decisions.”
On March 19, at 11:37 p.m., international students who had petitioned to stay on campus received confirmation that they would be allowed to stay in Southern Village.
“I think [Southern] handled the situation pretty well,” Moran said. “I think considering all factors, they’ve been pretty understanding and accommodating.”
Student employment opportunities for international students are in question as those with student visas can only be employed by on-campus employers.
Acquiring a student-visa restricts the recipient to only finding employment on the campus of the university they attend. However, according to the FAQ page on Southern’s website, on-campus student labor will be discontinued after March 20, but exceptions may be made and will be determined by Administration on a case-by-case basis. Moran works as an RA in the dorm. Her job will be discontinued by the end of next week.
Many international students worry about how they will generate a source of income if they remain in the States.
“I’m unemployed now,” said international Canadian student Aimee Aunciacion, who left Southern on Thursday to stay with family in California. “And I’m only legally allowed to work on campus.”
Students can contact Janice Cosme in Human Resources (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information and guidance on student employment.