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International Students In Chicago Still ‘Wary’ After Government Rolls Back Visa Rules: ‘We Are Living In Fear All The Time’

The Trump administration reverted a July 6 rule change that would force international students to transfer or leave the country if their university only held online classes this fall.

The University of Chicago Medical Center's Hyde Park campus.
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CHICAGO — The federal government has backed off a recent move to prohibit international students from studying in the U.S. if their universities only offered online courses this fall.

International students in Chicago said they were relieved, but still concerned about the instability over their visa status.

”I cried but I couldn’t tell if it was because I was relieved or because I was furious,” University of Chicago student Charmaine Runes said. “In a matter of a week, they — and by they I mean the [Trump] administration — had turned international students’ lives upside down … I felt relief and then I instantly felt weary again.” 

The restriction barring international students from taking online-only courses long has been in place. But the guidelines announced last week took on different significance as campuses weigh whether they can safely conduct in-person classes at all amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The guidelines meant international students with F-1 and M-1 visas could have faced deportation if they did not transfer to a school offering in-person classes or voluntarily leave the U.S.

The Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agreed to rescind the rule Tuesday, following a lawsuit from Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Hundreds of universities throughout the country supported the litigation.

Runes, who was born in the United Arab Emirates and is a citizen of the Philippines, said she was unsure of where she could go when she first read about the new visa restrictions.

“I still had a lot of anxiety of ‘What am I going to do? Should I start packing things up? Should I start throwing things away? Should I cancel my lease?’” said Runes. 

She said her life and the lives of international students already are filled with uncertainty. 

“I feel like my life as an international student is unstable as it is,” she said. “For them to send a hurricane this way for no reason— for no rational, good reason, was infuriating.” 

A student who goes by Ely and attends Northwestern University was planning on booking a ticket back to Chile. She said she was “ so happy,” but she, too, felt uncertain about the future. 

“It’s that kind of feeling which is happiness in the moment, but you don’t know what’s coming next or at some point is it going to happen again,” she said. “We are living in fear all the time. We are kind of tired, I think that this last year has been an eternal one.”

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