COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - In a letter to students and faculty, University of South Carolina President Bob Caslen and provost William Tate said they are still studying the Dept. of Homeland Security’s latest policy on international student visas.
But, at this time they believe “this directive will have little impact, if any, on UofSC students taking in-person classes,” wrote Caslen.
The policy announced Monday says students “attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States” according to the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement website.
In the fall, UofSC plans on having students on-campus until Thanksgiving Recess. After then, they will have two remote class days, three remote days for exam preparations, and then final exams happening all online.
ICE’s policy modification mentions “hybrid models” that mix online, and in-person classes and requires those schools to certify an international student’s courses aren’t only happening online.
In his letter to parents Caslen writes, “While some classes this fall will be virtual, the University of South Carolina remains committed to providing the majority of its courses through in-person, classroom instruction.”
The university also mentioned they are reaching out to DHS, U.S. lawmakers, and planning a virtual meeting with Sen. Lindsey Graham to get further guidance and express their concerns about the impact this policy could have.
For UofSC Student Body President Issy Rushton, the impact is clear: if ICE takes issue with UofSC’s Fall plan or COVID-19 continues to surge and prevents in-person classes, she has to go back to Australia.
Rushton is one of the nearly 2,000 international students studying at UofSC, according to a 2019 report by the university. She said if she was forced to leave, she would be leaving city she calls home.
“I’m in my house that I have a lease on, I have a car, I have a driver’s license, there are so many concerns I have with this policy that if I was going to be deported because my university decided to go online, I wouldn’t just be taken away from my home, there’s a cost associated with that,” she said.
She says flights to Australia right now are hard to come by and expensive, and adds upon arriving to Australia she would be forced by the government to pay for a two-week stay at a hotel, an expense she can’t afford.
Rushton adds that it’s not just the personal price tag of this policy that worries her, it’s the potential impact of trying to keep up with classes from the other side of the globe. She said she tried being remote from her home in Gold Coast, Australia in March, but it was frustrating and exhausting.
“I tried to fulfill classes. I tried to fulfill my role as student body president, but it was pretty impossible,” she said. “The time zone is 14 hours ahead…that meant I was completing classes and meetings from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. That’s fine for a couple of days, but that’s not a way to live as a human being…you know it’s terrifying.”
But, she said she still thinks of herself as lucky.
Rushton said being an international student has always come with extra rules. Before COVID-19, international students weren’t allowed to take more than one class online or three college credits.
In an interview with CNN, Acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli said this policy is more flexible than the previous one.
“There isn’t a reason for a person holding a student visa to be present in the country,” Cuccinelli said. “They should go home and return when the school reopens.”
Rushton said she spoke with President Caslen on Tuesday and was assured that he will do all he can to make sure neither she nor her peers would get deported.
However, the fact that deportation is even a possibility makes her worry.
“My greatest concern is that if I go online -- what does that mean for my college degree? I am 3 years out of 4. I’m so close to graduating…it’s definitely troubling,” she said.