The clock starts ticking on May 23, 2020. 60 days — that is the amount of time that graduating international students have to find employment (related to their respective majors) or attend graduate school in order to remain in the United States.
If an international student does not have a plan after those 60 days, then that person would be unlawfully present in the United States.But due to the current pandemic, jobs have vanished and an uncertain future looms for many international students as the possibility of having to leave the United States becomes a more certain reality.That was the reality I had to face these past months as I tried to find a way to stay in the United States to pursue the opportunities I came here for.
The current pandemic has affected everyone in the United States in one way or another, but it has affected international students in unique ways. Visa restrictions prevent most international students from working off-campus. Since campus is closed and most on-campus jobs are not available, international students do not have their primary sources of income. Unlike most U.S. citizens, international students like me are not eligible for unemployment benefits or the stimulus check. While the federal government has allocated funds to help U.S. college students with their daily expenses, due to the “America First” agenda of the Trump administration, those funds do not reach international students. While some students have families that can pay the remaining tuition, many others are struggling to make ends meet.
While many U.S. students have been able to return home when campus closed, many international students, like myself, are also stuck here in the United States as international borders are closed. My home country, Colombia, has not been letting foreign travelers in and it is unclear when it will do so again. Additionally, due to stricter immigration laws set by the Trump Administration, I was afraid that I would not be let into the United States again for the Fall Semester.
As a graduating senior, things are even more complicated. Prior to the current pandemic, I was planning to work for a year before going to graduate school. I was applying for jobs and even getting some interviews. I had applied to two graduate schools that did not require the GRE, as I was intending to take it during the summer. But when the virus started hurting the economy, I started to panic. Jobs were becoming more scarce, so my plans changed in the hopes that the graduate schools I had applied to would offer me the funding I needed in order to attend. But, similar to many job offers, my graduate funding got rescinded due to the pandemic.
Many people have asked me, “Why are you so worried to go back home?” or “Isn’t it great that you can be back with your family?” First, I do not know if I will be able to get back into Colombia before my 60 days in the U.S. are up. Second, it is unclear whether the Trump administration will impose stricter visa restrictions that will make it harder for me to come back to the country and pursue graduate school if I do leave. Third, not only am I disappointed, but I feel as though I have failed my parents and, more importantly, myself. I keep asking myself, “Does it even matter anymore?” Not only did I work hard for the four years I was here, but my parents struggled to help pay for my tuition, and I feel disappointed that I might go back home empty-handed and bring only an uncertain future ahead of me.
This current pandemic has affected everyone, but it has especially made the lives of international students, like me, a little more uncertain. Being an international student is a blessing and a privilege, but it sometimes feels like a burden as well. We leave the comforts of home with the hope of seeking a better education, of building a better future, and ultimately bearing the fruit of our parents’ constant sacrifice. I keep reminding myself of the words my father would always tell me while I was growing up, “The greater the struggle, the more glorious the triumph.” This might be a bump in the road of what I want to do with my life, but I hope, when we look back at this moment, my family and I will be proud of what I have overcome.