When University officials announced that most students would have to vacate campus by March 19, international students — some of whom were eligible to remain — had to grapple with what to do next.
“It’s been really chaotic,” said Jack Allen ’21, from Manchester, England. He planned on flying home March 15, having booked his ticket when the announcement was made. “I’m obviously really saddened that we have to finish the spring semester like this,” he said.
Allen’s decision to return home followed the advice of the Davis International Center, which wrote in an email to international students on the evening of March 11 that “in most cases, the safest option is to return home.”
Exceptions included students for whom going home meant returning to a CDC-designated Level 2 or 3 country or a USDOS Level 4 or Level 3 country (at the time, these included China, Iran, South Korea, and Italy); who are nationals of a country subject to a travel ban and would need to apply for a new visa to return to the United States; whose visas had expired or were at high risk for a visa denial; and those who did not have a “good environment at home for learning.”
“It’s hard to think about the situation and go on with your normal commitments,” said Riccardo Lapi ’21, from Tuscany, Italy. Because Italy was categorized as a Risk Level 3 country by the CDC, Lapi was approved to stay for the remainder of the semester, but he chose to leave campus. By March 17, he was in self-quarantine at home.
As a general rule, international students in the United States must receive in-person instruction for their academic visas to be valid. However, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently allowed schools to “temporarily adopt other learning methods to better comply with government health requirements,” according to Albert Rivera, the director of the Davis International Center.
As for seniors who are concerned about their Optional Practical Training (OPT) applications to live and work in the U.S. after graduation, Rivera wrote, “there is no indication that travel alone will place your application in jeopardy.”
Since students must be physically present in the United States to apply for OPT, many were worried that leaving the country before a visa is received could complicate their plans.
“If I’m not in the States to pick up my [new] visa and try to re-enter the country with an outdated visa, I’ll have trouble getting back in,” explained Sally Hahn ’20, from Seoul, South Korea. “Because of that, I don’t want to leave the country in the next few weeks.” Hahn’s application to remain on campus was approved.