International students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln continue to be supported despite challenges brought on by the coronavirus.
More than 3,000 international students and scholars study and research at UNL, according to Nebraska Today, but when classes adapted to be remote in March due to the coronavirus, some students were unable to return to their home country. In response, UNL allowed international students to continue to live on campus and created an International Committee as a subcommittee of UNL’s COVID-19 Task Force to provide additional support.
Josh Davis, associate vice chancellor for global affairs and UNL’s senior international officer, said in an email that the task force formed between late-February and early-March, and some of its earliest duties included focusing on the return of UNL students who were studying abroad. He said the committee gave the task force recommendations on how to provide for the health and safety of students, faculty and staff who were studying abroad.
The committee also coordinated to provide support for UNL’s international students because many international students reached out to the International Student and Scholar Office for guidance and advice during March due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to Davis. The ISSO started hosting virtual events, such as weekly lunch hours and karaoke and dance night parties with live DJs.
Davis said the committee developed four flexible enrollment options for returning international students, which include the regular schedule other UNL students are following and beginning classes remotely while completing coursework remotely until arrival on campus by September 20.
A third option is to enroll in online-only classes for the fall semester with a discounted tuition rate, and the final option is to put a pause on the fall semester and continuing in the Spring 2021 semester.
The committee held a webinar on July 23 with non-UNL affiliated immigration attorneys to provide information on immigration changes and impacts on international students, according to Davis.
“We realize that they have faced tremendous uncertainty due to COVID-19 — they have faced travel restrictions, visa delays and countless other obstacles,” Davis said in an email. “We are here to help them however we can and will continue to advocate for them at the national level.”
Born in the United Arab Emirates and raised in Oman, Nikita Mansinghani, a sophomore architecture major and international student from India, said in a text that when the announcement of remote learning came in March, students who were unable to go back home were able to continue living on campus through the summer. Mansinghani said those students were moved from the traditional halls to the suites in order to maintain social distancing.
Originally, Mansinghani said she was planning on going back home at the beginning of summer, but she decided to stay at UNL because flights were unavailable and her parents said it was probably best for her safety to stay in the U.S.
Mansinghani said it has been strange to not see people all around campus, but living on campus has felt safe and pleasant regardless.
“I remember meeting different kinds of individuals in the hallways and around the campus, exchanging smiles and just having a good time,” Mansinghani said in a text message.
Davis said the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, contains the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, which governs how a secondary school, college or university can host international students.
Davis said the University of Nebraska is not opposed to ICE but opposed to the additional restrictions placed on international students at the beginning of July that would have required international students to leave the U.S if classes became exclusively online. NU joined more than 180 colleges in an amicus brief that supported a lawsuit filed by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology opposing the additional restrictions.
On July 14, ICE rescinded its policy that would have prohibited international students from staying in the U.S. if they were going to take online-only courses, according to NPR.
“International students have faced significant uncertainty in the current situation, and we believe that they should be provided as much flexibility as possible to navigate these challenging circumstances,” Davis said. “We were glad to see that ICE retracted these guidelines.”
Mansinghani said she feels UNL has done a good job of supporting their international students, despite the many challenges.
“UNL supported its international students by providing good living and food facilities,” Mansinghani said. “The university has taken strict measures to keep everyone safe and healthy.”
UNL has increased student support initiatives in all areas, including immigration assistance, academic support and health and well-being support, according to Davis. The International Student Success Navigators in the International Student and Scholar Office have offered a variety of virtual programming activities to help student engagement while socially distant.
“UNL has offered unwavering international student support services during this critical time with so many changes and impacts due to COVID-19,” Davis said.
Mansinghani said ISSO continues to motivate students through social media and trying to spread positivity in general.
ISSO continues to monitor visa processing timelines, travel recommendations, quarantining requirements and more, so staff can be prepared to support UNL’s international students further, according to Davis.
“We want them to know that they are important members of our Husker family,” Davis said. “International students enrich our campus and our community. We are a better place because of them.”