OPINION: Work of home, residential nations helped support international students during COVID-19 pandemic

Vedant Kulkarni is a junior in information management systems and mass communications. (Archive Photo by John Chapple | Collegian Media Group)

COVID-19 took the world aback with all of its havoc across the globe. Flights were canceled, trips were postponed indefinitely, and people abroad were called back to their homes. In such situations, one group that was most affected in every way by this crisis has been international students.

According to the Institute of International Education, by November 2019, there were around 1.1 million international students in the United States. This statistic would mean that when the COVID-19 pandemic caused lockdowns and travel restrictions around the world, there were 1.1 million international students who were stranded away from their homes.

International students were confused when the lockdowns began. The decision of whether to stay in the U.S. or return to their home countries made almost all international students lose their sleep and hurt their mental health.

However, in these situations, numerous countries stepped up to help international students in the U.S. and across the world. Using their embassies in the U.S. and other countries, many nations reached out to their citizens abroad and provided relief and support.

The Indian Embassy in Washington D.C. established a student advisory specifically for international students. Through the advisory, the embassy would send out important information about travel restrictions in India, give updates of COVID-19 cases in the Indian community and provide crucial details about how to navigate oneself in this pandemic.

The Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington D.C. has also implemented similar tactics to reach out to Sri Lankan students and citizens in the U.S. The website of the embassy contains essential links to information about travel bans and restrictions to Sri Lanka, the novel coronavirus outbreak, other government assistance to Sri Lankan students in the U.S. The Sri Lankan Consulate in Los Angeles asked Sri Lankan students in the U.S. to voluntarily register with the consulate by submitting important information and bio-data, as well as health conditions.

The Government of China has taken exceptional steps to reach out to Chinese students studying in the U.S. Through their global health initiative, Chinese internationals are now eligible to receive a personal health package to protect themselves in this pandemic. These packages include respirator masks, disposable masks, disinfectant wipes, capsules that treat novel coronavirus symptoms, protective gloves and disease prevention manuals.

The Paraguayan government is also taking steps to assist their international students in the U.S. The Paraguayan government has closed all commercial flights, but they are allowing repatriation flights. These flights would permit international students and citizens of Paraguay in the U.S. to return to their homes. These flights are not mandatory for all citizens to take, but rather a choice should they choose to go home.

The United States government has also taken steps to assist international students studying here. International students who have been in the United States for more than five years — and who filed their previous year’s taxes as resident-aliens — were eligible to receive a stimulus check.

The United States government was prompt in amending the F-1 student visa rules and regulations to ensure that international students stranded here do not fall under visa violations, as classes at several universities were moved entirely online. Taking this measure was necessary since international undergraduate students on F-1 visas need to be enrolled in a minimum of 12 credit hours per semester, with 9 of them in-person. Hence, when classes were moved online, international students were worried about maintaining their visa status. Nevertheless, the prompt actions of the U.S. government eased those worries.

The U.S. government also assisted students who were studying abroad. Universities across the nation, including Kansas State, worked diligently with each other and the government to bring students back to the United States. Schools abroad are also assisting their partner universities to make sure that students who have to return to the U.S. can complete their courses online. According to the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. government has coordinated the repatriation of 76,030 of its citizens.

Overall, nations across the world are doing their best to accommodate and assist their citizens abroad. Additionally, universities have also been working hard to help their international students.

Nevertheless, local students across America should reach out to their fellow international classmates and provide support and assistance through this difficult time — international students are stranded thousands of miles away from their homes and families. We are all in this pandemic together, and the only way out of it is by looking out for each other.

Vedant Deepak Kulkarni is a junior in management information systems and mass communications. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.