Accommodating International Students in the Wake of Change

By Lindsay Price

There has been a lot of uncertainty this summer over how The University of Tampa’s Fall session will move forward in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools have been a hot button issue over the summer, with debate raging on whether or not classes should be held in person. UT has laid out its reopening plans and deliberated on a variety of issues that the Fall semester will present.

But, international students have extra hurdles to clear to continue their education at UT. Changes have been made to the United States Student and Exchange Visitor Program, and students from the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus may be denied entry to the United States. 

There may be question marks even for students who are already in the country. A recent announcement from the federal government, now rescinded, threatened to deport any foreign students who did not attend in-person classes.

Additionally, international students coming from abroad, as well as any American students returning from outside the country, will be required to quarantine for 14 days. This means that they will have to arrive by Wednesday, Aug.12 to attend the first day of UT’s Fall semester, Wednesday, Aug. 26. This does not account for time needed to move.

Kari Tews, UT coordinator for International Education Programs and Outreach, explained that virtual options have been established for orientation to accommodate these concerns. Fall 2020 New International Student Orientation has been moved to a Zoom format, and a remote check-in option has been made available. 

In-person check-in will still be available, but social distancing measures have been instituted to mitigate the spread of the virus. She expressed that UT will continue to communicate their plans and provide options for international students as the semester progresses.

“We are excited to welcome our international students back to campus. We recognize this is a time of uncertainty, and we are using all available information from local, state, and federal authorities in our decision-making,” said Tews. “Students who are unable to enter the U.S. this Fall will be able take their current schedule of courses online. This option will be available to continuing and new international students as well as U.S. citizens currently living abroad and our students from Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories. Through this process, students will also be able to request an accommodation for medical reasons.”

At the present time, UT will be moving ahead with a combination of in-person and remote learning. The International Programs Office assures students that even if UT is forced to move fully to online classes, international students will still maintain their F-1 student visa status and be allowed to remain inside the U.S. if they desire. Additionally, as long as they are enrolled for the Fall semester, they will hold active status on their Student and Exchange Visitor Information System records whether they are in the U.S. or not.

Martín Farias, a senior finance major from Guatemala, is ready to return to campus in spite of fears over the virus. The possibility of cases spreading at UT is troubling, but it does not outweigh his excitement to wrap up his academic career. He expressed faith in UT’s reopening plans and the need for all students to do their part to keep the disease from spreading on campus.

“I am entering my last semester at UT, so I’m excited and looking forward to returning to campus. I am also a little nervous about what is going to happen when students come back and if cases of COVID-19 start spiking at the university,” said Farias. “However, I am confident in the plans of the university for managing this situation. It’s going to be very important for each student, staff, and faculty member to be responsible and maintain a safe and clean environment so we all can have another successful year at UT.”

The coronavirus situation in Guatemala differs from the staggering rate of infections in the United States, with just 55,270 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Guatemala. Just in the state of Florida, by comparison, has surpassed 518,000 cases, and the United States is nearing the 5 million mark. There are risks for international students, like Martín, by attending in-person classes in the U.S., as it is the epicenter of the global pandemic.

Guidelines that apply to all students will be essential in avoiding a major outbreak on campus during the Fall semester. Wearing masks, social distancing on campus, screening for symptoms, and isolating confirmed or suspected cases are among recommendations made by the UT COVID-19 Health Safety Task Force. Student compliance will be necessary to protect the community and limit the risks of in-person learning.

All students are encouraged to review UT’s Fall Reopening announcement and the Spartan Shield Safety Plan before classes resume on Wednesday, Aug. 26.


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