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OU international students express fears, uncertainties over inability to renew visas, return to campus

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Signs at the rally for international students on July 13.

Dasha Davydova, an OU international business and management information systems sophomore from Russia, received a 1-year student visa from the U.S. Embassy in 2019, although her university program is intended to last four years. She said she needs to renew her visa, which expired in April, and fill out an emergency appointment application — but the U.S. Embassy in Russia has been closed since March 18. 

For Davydova, she said preparing for the fall semester has turned out to be a stressful process over the last four months. Because U.S. embassies around the globe are lacking services to accommodate individuals with special visa types, she has been forced to think of other possible solutions — traveling to another country with an opened embassy, trying to get virtual assistance or just waiting for the embassy to open.

She said she’s had to consider how she’ll buy plane tickets, attend her classes and work or arrive at OU in time for the beginning of the fall semester. 

The closure of U.S. embassies around the world due to COVID-19 is affecting current and incoming international students attending college in the U.S. The Daily spoke with OU international students about their journey to return to the university amid a global pandemic.

An incoming OU freshman from Mozambique* decided to not apply for a U.S. student visa since she said she already knows it won’t be given to her during the pandemic. She said her country is in a level three state of emergency based on the government’s five stages of lockdown — meaning there are restrictions on many activities to address the high risk of transmission.

The student said she already knew she wouldn’t be able to arrive in the U.S. in August for the beginning of her freshman year at OU, but now she hopes to arrive in January. 

“The (U.S.) at the moment has also made me feel hopeless, or at least hopeless about making it to the U.S. in August,” the student said. “I’m still hopeful about January.”

Several international students said they are worried that many members of the class of 2024 will miss out on the cultural enrichment of international students’ presence on campus if embassies remain closed for longer periods.

Michael Lowry, an OU civil engineering senior and international student from South Africa, sent a statement to The Daily in which he explained how the U.S. embassy system is currently working in his home country, based on an email he received from the U.S. ambassador in Swaziland.

“U.S. embassy posts around the world are currently operating on a 4-stage system which determines what operations can take place,” Lowry said. “Level zero is reserved for countries experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases and outlines that all visa processing is put on hold, with the exception of mission-critical cases.”

Lowry said he realized he is not the only OU international student trying to solve his visa issues, as his visa was only valid for two years. In response to the dire situation international students face as embassies all over the world remain closed, he created the #LetMeLearn campaign. 

“(The campaign) will be aimed at raising awareness of the situation which these students find themselves in, with the hope of encouraging the U.S. Department of State to allow for the issuing of visas as early as possible,” Lowry said in the statement. 

In an interview with The Daily, Lowry said #LetMeLearn is planning to send a letter to ambassadors and influential allies across U.S. universities, including President Joseph Harroz and faculty in the OU College of International Studies. The organization is also sharing a petition on social media to explain the struggles of international students who might not get to the U.S. for the fall semester. 

For Lowry, he said the reversal of the ICE decision — which would have barred international students from staying in the U.S. and taking all-online classes — doesn’t solve the current problem caused by the closure of the U.S. embassies because it doesn’t change the reality for students outside the country. Instead, he said the closure of embassies is “a disproportionate response, considering the relatively low level of action (to prevent COVID-19) being taken within the U.S.”

Davydova said she never thought she would be “in such uncertainty” about her future studies as she is right now — a feeling shared by many within the international community. 

“It made me feel very anxious and unseen,” Davydova said. “I feel like even our choice of coming to the U.S. in these hard times should be seen as a clear and brave intention that should be met by our countries' embassies with the same energy.”

*Editor's note: This student wished to remain anonymous out of concern for their visa status.

This article was corrected at 10:56 a.m. Saturday, July 18, to indicate one of the sources received information from the U.S. ambassador in Swaziland. 

Marien López-Medina is an international student and United World Colleges alumna from Nicaragua. She is majoring in journalism with a minor in public and nonprofit administration and works as a news reporter for The Daily.

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