For the past week, ecology major and international student Wai Tun said he felt like he was without a country.
It started after the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency announced on July 6 that all international students with an F1 visa would not be allowed to stay in the United States if they only took online classes. The order was reversed by Donald Trump’s administration Tuesday during a court hearing against ICE by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology that was backed by another 200 universities across the country.
Tun had been worried because his home country of Myanmar had a ban on commercial flights coming into the country because of the pandemic, and Dallas College had already announced most classes would be online in the fall.
“I felt countryless, but not anymore,” he said. “I’m relieved, and I feel better.”
After studying forestry for three years in Myanmar, Tun applied for an F1 visa to come to America and study ecology, which isn’t offered in his home country. His hope is to help his home country build a more sustainable agriculture economy as it continues developing.
Tun arrived in America for the fall 2018 semester and attended Houston Community College before moving in with some relatives in Forney and attending Eastfield. As an international student, he pays nearly three times the tuition rate.
When the news came that he might have to go back home, he said it caused his anxiety to rise as he worried that he might have to leave America. He said it would be almost impossible to get another visa to study in the U.S., as it’s like “winning the lottery.” But now he doesn’t have to worry about scratching that lucky ticket.
“Today I’m very, very lucky and very blessed,” he said. “We’re no longer required to take any physical in-person courses amid this pandemic. So that means we’re safe and we’re good shape.”
Tun also said it was nice to have support from Dallas College, which has nearly 2,500 international students, according to enrollment data. In response to last week’s announcement, the college sent an email to all students and employees to let them know that they were working to assess what classes international students would need and figure out a way to have them in-person so the students could stay enrolled.
“Dallas College is disheartened by this one-size-fits-all approach as we deal with the ever-shifting challenge of giving all our students the best and safest instructional options during an unprecedented pandemic,” the email said. “Considering that few of the affected students have the real option of leaving the country to pursue online education under current travel restrictions abroad – or when their home country or family situations might lack the infrastructure to connect to U.S. colleges and universities online in workable way – the move is disruptive, at best.”
Robert Reyes, who is the director of college programs with the multicultural center at El Centro, said he was also relieved to hear the news after he had been working for the past week with other college officials to figure out a plan to have face-to-face classes for international students. He said it was the right decision for the Trump administration to make, and he was happy to see it be done without the judge having to rule on it.
“If the last three months have taught us anything, it’s that what’s right is right [and] what’s wrong is wrong,” Reyes said. “Those guidelines were wrong. They weren’t considerate of the basic needs of students.”