OPINION: International students need more support as COVID-19 travel restrictions continue

The image has a blue and green globe surrounded by small houses. California is highlighted and a dotted line leads from it to a large plane.
(Bella Pettengill • The Student Life)

While COVID-19 cases may now be plummeting in California and throughout the country, 5C students won’t soon forget the sudden outbreak that derailed the fall 2021 semester. As an international student from China, I would like to give special attention to the international student body here at the 5Cs, who continue to require additional support in this uncertain time.

On Christmas Eve last year, I received a phone call from one of my dearest friends at the 5Cs. I found out that he had just tested positive for COVID-19 after having dinner with an asymptomatic friend. I asked him if he needed anything and how I could help him through this unfortunate situation. He said that he was more saddened by the fact that while others could enjoy the privilege of quarantining at home, he could not even go home during the holidays and had to be stuck here with no family support around. 

The Biden administration recently suspended 44 China-bound flights from the United States, which were all under the operation of Chinese carriers. This decision came after China suspended 20 United Airlines flights, 10 American Airlines flights, and 14 Delta Airlines flights from Dec. 31 to Jan. 21. Chinese authorities justified their decision by stating that there had been positive COVID-19 cases on many past international flights, but this decision inevitably locked Chinese citizens out of their home country for an uncertain period of time. 

Many international students at the 5Cs have experienced the plight of not being able to return home, and have not seen any signs of relief. It is imperative for the 5C administration to provide better accommodations for international students. 

Domestic host families can be a critical part of a 5C-wide response. International students who have no relatives living in the U.S. often find it difficult to find off-campus housing during break; and even though the 5Cs provide limited housing during breaks, international students may find it distressing to stay on campus without any of their family and friends, especially during the holidays.

 The 5C administration should consider recruiting host families from the domestic student body to accommodate international students’ housing needs, relieve the 5Cs of extra expenses to provide students with on-campus housing, and make students feel they have a home away from home. In fact, on a national level, there is a lot of enthusiasm for hosting international students. Host Family Survey results show that 87 percent of host families report positive experiences. Moreover, testimonies have found that hosting international students allows for meaningful cultural exchange and built deep relationships across borders. 

Moreover, the 5C administration must dedicate further resources toward helping secure internship opportunities for international students. The pandemic has already severely impacted international students trying to land job and internship offers in the United States. For example, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services has delayed the Optional Practical Training application, which in turn delayed the assignment of Employment Authorization Documents to international students. The OPT only allows international students to stay in the U.S. for up to a year without an F1 student visa and leaves them vulnerable to deportation if the students don’t land an OPT-supported job before the one-year deadline. Not to mention that many companies nationwide have paused international recruiting due to the pandemic, posing further job-hunting challenges for international students. The 5C administration can establish job hunting support groups that are specifically dedicated to international students. 

These are just two ways that the 5Cs can provide better support to international students unable to return for winter break. I encourage the 5Cs to recognize and empathize with the plight of international students and continue to build better opportunities to support them.

Scarlett Liu CM ’24 is from Beijing, China. She binges classic black and white movies as well as the HBO series Euphoria. She loves going on adventures and random late-night walks.

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