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'Downright unfair': Vietnamese students slam new US visa policy

A new visa policy in the US has put thousands of Vietnamese students at risk of deportation and left their academic and professional dreams in tatters.

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The University of Massachusets Boston Campus Center in the US. Photo Wikimedia Commons

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced on Monday that international students on certain visas have to leave the country if their universities only offer online courses in the upcoming autumn semester.

The sudden decision has caused great uncertainty and anxiety for many of the almost 30,000 Vietnamese students in the country.

Health concerns

Nguyen Mai Anh is studying for her master’s in international relations at the University of Massachusetts in Boston and she told Việt Nam News that her school had already announced that classes would be entirely online in the autumn.

“Personally I’m very worried because my university said that they will just run online classes in the fall and not have any in-person classes,” she said, adding that she thought the ICE decision was “totally unfair and illogical”.

Nguyen Phuong Dung, who studies at Youngstown State University in Ohio and left the US in spring to return to her home in Hanoi as COVID-19 began to spread, said the move has put international students’ health at risk. Her school has announced plans for a hybrid of in-person and online classes in the fall.

“The policy is truly disregarding international students’ health.

“According to the policy, we international students must fly back to the US (risking our health) and take in-person classes in order to retain an active status on our visa.”

Dung noted that even if international students wanted to leave the US, many of their home countries have banned entry from the US as the virus continues to spread within its borders, while other countries like Vietnam have suspended virtually all commercial inbound flights.

“The policy is downright unfair and treating international students as expendable,” she added.

Phuong Do Thanh Bui, an MBA student also at UMass Boston, said domestic politics may have had a bearing on the ICE decision.

“I think it’s just a decision of (US President) Donald Trump to force all the universities to open,” Phuong said.

Plans in tatters

As well as putting their immediate plans up in the air, the ICE decision has also left international students’ hopes for life after graduation in doubt.

All the Vietnamese students Việt Nam News spoke to said they hoped to apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT) after graduation, which would allow them to work in the US for a year.

“However with this difficult situation I think the probability that I can get it has decreased,” Phuong said.

Anh hopes to one day return to Vietnam and serve her country as a diplomat, but she said she felt this goal may be harder to accomplish if she’s unable to stay in the US.

“It would mean that my chance to experience working in a professional job in the US is maybe hopeless,” she said.

All three students also said that the quality of their education has decreased by learning online-only, despite the best efforts of their professors.

Phuong said that she had faith UMass Boston would help students like her and Anh, partly due to the sizeable amount of revenue international students’ tuition fees bring. The institution has released a statement condemning the ICE decision.

Backlash

Several universities have already spoken out against the policy change and Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have even filed a lawsuit against US President Donald Trump’s administration over the regulations.

Students, including Dung, have also been fighting the policy changes with petitions and lists of institutions offering in-person classes.

UMass Boston and Youngstown State did not immediately respond to a request for comment.  VNS

Peter Cowan/Vu Thu Ha

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