Nigerians, who are studying in institutions across the United States of America, are expressing concern over comments by US immigration authorities that international students whose institutions have opted for full online courses due to the COVID-19 pandemic may face deportation and have their visas revoked.

The Nigerian Government is yet to comment on the fate of its citizens studying in the US and steps it was taking to protect them from the new policy.

SaharaReporters spoke with some affected students about their plight in their quest for quality education.

Smart Chukwuma Amaefula, who was recently admitted for a Masters in Science and Environmental Studies at the Ohio University on a scholarship, said he was concerned he may have to defer his admission and in the process lose his funding and a full academic year if the decision was implemented by the US Government.

“I know everybody is confused. My arrival deadline in Ohio University is August 12, but the earliest visa appointment date on the US Embassy website for Abuja is November 3, while Lagos has no date at all. Also, expedited visa appointment is not available for now. Nigeria has not lifted the ban on international flights yet, as well as the major flights that can take travellers from Nigeria through Europe or the Middle East are not yet allowed to fly into the US.  File Photo: Student

“August 12 is just about 5 to 6 weeks away. 

“I feel choked up with these uncertainties such as my inability to secure student visa by now, the uncertainty of international flights and if at all flights resume now, will I be able to afford the high costs of air tickets associated with near-departure-date-purchase costs, let alone now that COVID-19 crisis might lead the airlines to hike the fares?” he queried.

He expressed worry that his only option might be to defer his admission due to travel restrictions and uncertainty around the matter.

“Ohio University has suggested that international students can ask for deferment to Spring 2021 Semester if their departments can guarantee their scholarships. On two Webinars hosted by US Embassy, Nigeria, they also mentioned that students can ask their schools for deferment to a semester or a year. 

“Personally, I'm no longer economically, emotionally, logistically and socially ready to travel again by this August and finding it extremely difficult to make time-bound and centrally-held plans. Sadly, I’m wishing to defer to Spring Semester (January 2021). I feel bad about this, because, I was assured of this admission last year for Spring (January 2020). 

“Ohio University instructed me to defer it to Fall, (August 2020), that, it's in Fall that funding can be available. I agreed and deferred it to Fall (August 2020) and paid a deferment fee. 

“Now, it's evident that, due to COVID-19 related reasons, I might be compelled to defer my admission again to same Spring that I was advised against, but of January 2021. In that case, I've lost one full academic year,” he told SaharaReporters.

He added that online classes might not be available to students like him whose scholarships rely on being a Graduate Assistant or Teaching Assistant. 

“I understand they won't consider this for an international student outside the US. This is because scholarship offers are work-related. 

“Therefore, if an international student yet outside the US is to register and start classes online, he or she would have to remit tuition fees from their home country. I think online enrolment might work for those students who have or are paying their fees on their own. Those on GAs, TAs and GRS like us would need to be on campus to study where we also work and it's converted to expected tuition and sundry fees,” he concluded.

Obidimma Ikeh, a Nigerian student with admission for a PhD in Materials Engineering at the University of Cincinnati, Ohio, told SaharaReporters that he wants the US Government to assure international students who will opt to take online classes from their home country that visa application, processing and issuance will be easy for students come Spring 2021 when travel is more likely.

“My school plans to take in-person classes if one is in U.S, online and in-person classes if one can secure a visa on or before October 12th 2020, then Online classes for this fall if one can't secure a visa. Then deferral to start by spring.

In summary, hybrid learning,” he said, adding that he would take online classes while he is in Nigeria.

“The severity of COVID-19 outbreak has made international students mobility across the world increasingly unlikely. The outbreak of the COVID-19 has become a major disruption to college and universities across the world with most institutions cancelling in-person classes and moving to online instruction. The pandemic has also threatened significantly altered nearly every aspect of college life and visa issuance. 

“My expectation and hope is that the government should assure international students taking online classes at their home countries that visa applications, processing and issuance come spring 2021 will be made easier for them and that they are not at risk-taking online classes at their home with the hope of moving to the state later and that they are not at risk of not securing a visa and continue with their education,” he said.

Dayo Paul Oluwakoya, a graduate student studying Digital Communications and Multimedia at the New York University, told SaharaReporters that his school has created in-person classes for international students so that the proposed policy does not affect them.

“The school is prepping to comply with the government directive on the new visa/international students policy starting from fall 2020, they have informed students about the new modalities for Fall 2020 course offerings.

“Unlike Havard University that would offer all it's studies online for the fall, NYU has come up with three distinct modes of instruction.

“In-person classes: The instruction is in-person, but students who are unable to get to campus or the classroom may attend remotely. Those who are out of the country and won't be able to get back to the country may also tend to embrace the online option.

“Online classes: All of the instruction is remote, whether the course meets at a designated time (synchronous), is self-paced (asynchronous), or a combination of both. Though wholly online, these courses will retain their usual enrollment size and students will have opportunities for regular engagement with the professor and “Blended classes: A varying mix of in-person and online instruction,” he said.

He went further to say the general concern among international students in his university revolves around safety and finances.

“In as much as they appreciate the school for coming up with the online options, they, however, want the school to look into adjusting its fees/tuition to reflect the present circumstance and adjustments. 

“Personally I recall that I had to be paying more for internet at home which in total cost me hundreds of dollars. Remember I am a full-time student and to get extra money wasn't easy to come by.

“I have cancelled my summer travel plan long time since travelling under the pandemic isn't safe. So, l am staying back in New York City. I wish and hope all my colleagues that have travelled home would be able to return without travel hiccups. 

“Teaching and learning is best when it is not limited either to the four walls of the classroom or stereotypical online,” he added.

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