No classes? No visa

Published July 14, 2020, 12:18 PM

by Kerry Tinga

Filipino students in the US struggle against a Trump order to choose between in-person classes or going home and losing scholarships

International companies like Google and Facebook have filed a legal letter in support of the ongoing lawsuit started by top American universities, including Harvard and MIT, seeking to protect international students from losing their visas. The legal letter has 19 signatories, including other big tech firms like Microsoft, Spotify, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

After college, many international students studying in the US go off to work at some of the most innovative American corporations, like the signatories mentioned. They are able to learn from mavericks of industry, coming back to apply their newfound knowledge to grow Filipino businesses.

The original lawsuit was filed after the latest announcement from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) regarding international students. According to the new regulations, international students who are taking fully online classes will be forced to leave the country. Incoming students in the same situation may not be issued visas or let in the country.

Last school year, there were over 3,300 Filipino students enrolled in American universities. But those 3,300 plus Filipino students have experienced an educational disruption like no other. Many have shifted to fully online classes due to the Covid-19 health crisis, and now must deal with the uncertainties the latest US regulations have created.

Big tech firms like Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Spotify, LinkedIn, and Twitter are among the 19 signatories to a legal letter filed in support of the ongoing lawsuit started by top American universities, including Harvard and MIT, seeking to protect international students from losing their visas.

Manila Bulletin Lifestyle talked to several Filipino students on scholarships who may be affected by the latest announcement.

Janel Perez, Dartmouth College

“I had wanted to study in the US precisely because I had dreamed of relieving my parents of the financial burden of paying for my college education,” says Janel Perez. The incoming college junior has been eager to take on the opportunities Dartmouth College offers. At the prestigious Ivy League institution, Janel studies government as a King Scholar.

Janel Perez is an incoming college junior at Dartmouth College, where she studies government as a King Scholar. (Photo taken from Facebook)

The King Scholars Program is for low-income students from developing countries who are interested in alleviating poverty. Dartmouth provides them with a four-year scholarship and extensive training. Afterward, scholars like Janel return home to tackle issues of poverty. It was everything she had worked and studied so hard for.

While online learning has been difficult, she has managed to persevere. But the latest ICE announcement had shaken her.

“Now we are forced to choose between our health and our current future legal presence in the US,” says the 20-year-old. “I would like to say I am shocked, but quite frankly it is to be expected, especially with this administration. Still, I am heartened to see the college-sponsored lawsuits filed to overturn this decree, but remain anxious for a positive solution.”

Marianna Villonco, University of San Francisco

“Studying in the US has always been a dream of mine,” says Marianna Villonco, a recent graduate of St. Paul’s College, Pasig. “Once the admission decisions came out, it came as a pleasant surprise to my family and myself that I was offered admission to all of the schools I applied. Not many opportunities like these come often, so I didn’t let this slip away.”

Marianna Villonco is an incoming freshman at the University of San Francisco (USF), where she plans to study finance. She chose USF because of the generous scholarship she worked hard to receive. (Photo courtesy of Marianna)

After much consideration, Marianna chose the University of San Francisco (USF) because of the scholarship she received. In the upcoming school year, she is excited to immerse herself in a new country that she is sure will help her grow as an individual.

On the latest announcement of ICE, the 18-year-old says, “It’s frustrating knowing there are one million international students affected by it.”

Marianna is one of the lucky ones, a dual Filipino-American citizen. Nonetheless, she adds, “I am deeply worried for my friends who are affected by this because they have to suddenly rethink the decisions and plans they have made.”

Due to her dual citizenship, Marianna is considered a domestic student. As such, USF offered her the option to swap classes with international students who may need particular in-person courses for visa reasons. But that may not be enough to help the international students.

“Although USF has [revised] options for modes of instruction,” she says, “some friends are left with no choice since a number of visa appointments were canceled or postponed.”

Aldrin Aujero, Yale University

“I decided to study in the US to maximize the scholarship opportunity that Yale generously provided,” says Aldrin Aujero. The International School Manila scholar plans to major in economics at the celebrated Ivy League institution.

Aldrin Aujero is an incoming freshman at Yale University, where he plans to major in economics. He was a scholar at the International School Manila, and also received a scholarship to Yale. (Photo courtesy of Aldrin)

 “I was very worried that [the ICE announcement] would completely derail the possibility for international students to study on-campus for the fall and future semesters,” he says.

The only silver lining is that Aldrin has seen how his college of choice is doing everything in its power to protect its international students.

“Yale has been very proactive and announced that it will plan to have its hybrid fall plans meet the requirements of ICE in order to allow international students to be on campus,” the 19-year-old adds. “I’m optimistic that Yale, along with other US universities, will be able to continue supporting international students like myself amid this pandemic.”

Axelle Miel, Duke University

“I decided to study in the US because I want to take advantage of the opportunities and resources that aren’t available in the Philippines,” says Cebu International School valedictorian Axelle Miel. “Someday, I’m going to apply what I’ve learned abroad to solve our problems back here.”

Axelle Miel is an incoming freshman at Duke University, where she plans to major in public policy or philosophy. A full scholar at Cebu International School, she has worked had and will also be a full scholar at Duke. (Photo courtesy of Axelle)

A full scholar at Cebu International School, Axelle worked hard to receive a full-ride at Duke University. There she intends to major in public policy or psychology. Initially excited for what the next chapter of her life holds, the recent news has caused some nervousness and apprehension.

“I was shocked that the US administration would use international students as a pressure point to force schools into re-opening,” says Axelle. “I had previously believed that the US government cared about the health of its citizens. And that they valued the international students who chose to study at their schools. It now appears, however, that their priorities are elsewhere.”

As an incoming first-year student, the 18-year-old has been dissapointed with the lack of support. Many have been unable to apply for visas in time because the US embassies have remained closed and no other options were provided.

“I genuinely hope that the ICE and the US government reconsider this new policy,” she adds. “So they can create a safer, more welcoming environment in which domestic and international students are able to safely enjoy their studies in the coming year.”