When Joyce Lu first got word of the COVID-19 pandemic, she worried about her family back home in Taiwan.
As a fourth-year international student at UC Santa Barbara (UCSB), Lu hasn’t seen her family in almost a year. With travel restrictions in place, it is uncertain when she will be with them again.
“Taiwan has such a high population density and a limited amount of resources. I felt hopeless because there was nothing I could do to reach my family,” Lu said in an interview with The Bottom Line (TBL).
Like many international students, Lu considered going back to her home in Taiwan but decided to stay in the United States (U.S.) because she couldn’t risk the possibility of travel restrictions interfering with her future employment. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., Lu was hired to work at Ernst & Young in San Francisco after graduation as an audit associate.
“The major reason why I am staying in the U.S. is that I need to wait for my work authorization card to be issued and mailed back to me,” Lu said, referring to the Employment Authorization (EAD) card that international students must obtain in order to work legally in the U.S. after graduation. With additional processes like mailing out documents and making phone calls, Lu chose to stay in case her application gets denied.
“I saw more and more students deciding to return to their home countries. For the most part, I just wanted to be with my family and let them know that I am with them,” said Lu.
While some international students chose between going home or staying, others were able to return to their home countries with support from the Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS).
According to the office’s April 6 newsletter, international students are able to directly connect with OISS advisors via Zoom, phone calls, and email for remote advising and support.
In a telephone interview with The Bottom Line, first-year economics major James Dai said that although the OISS events are now held on Zoom, advisors have been attentive to international students’ insights and concerns throughout the pandemic. “They started sending notifications at the end of last quarter and even during spring break,” said Dai.
Dai went back to China on March 23 and is now staying home in Shanghai for quarantine.
“There are many other students who share similar quarantine experiences with me. [Since] we need to stay isolated for fourteen days, most of us took flights at the end of March in order to prepare for the spring quarter,” Dai explained. In response to remote learning, he also changed the number of his courses from four to three.
Gloria Liu, a first-year student majoring in financial mathematics, had plans to travel back home but was concerned about her visa’s expiration.
Under normal circumstances, if an international student spends more than five months outside of the United States or is not actively enrolled as a student for this period, their student record is terminated. This is referred to as the five-month rule.
But Liu was constantly updated on the Department of Homeland Security’s adjustments to COVID-19 thanks to the OISS emails and planned her travel accordingly.
“After finding the five-month rule has been suspended, I fulfilled all the requirements and bought plane tickets,” said Liu in an interview with TBL.
In the reminder email that the OISS sent out, it listed five requirements in total, asking students to check their emergency contact, enroll in a full course load, double check I-20 (the Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status), and update their living addresses.
While international students like Dai and Liu found the situation worrying when the near-exponential escalation of the coronavirus pandemic took place, few were fortunate enough to stay in the U.S. without concern.
Instead of staying on campus, Bowen Zhu, another first-year student majoring in economics and accounting, chose to stay with her distant relatives in San Francisco. The pandemic did not bring her much concern.
“The only drawback of remote learning is the tire sitting in front of a laptop for the whole day. Yet I enjoy being productive on schoolwork and spending time with my dog,” Bowen commented.
Follow the Office of International Students and Scholars FAQ page to stay updated on how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting UCSB’s international student community.