Eighteen of OU’s international students will be faced with the possibility of deportation if they don’t pay off their bursar debts by this Friday, including one who is a senior and only needs three classes to graduate.
The student, who wished to remain unnamed due to the nature of the situation, said she was not aware of the consequences of having an outstanding balance until January when she tried to enroll for the semester. Now, if she doesn’t come up with $20,000, she will lose her visa status, causing her to lose the ability to work and be a student in the United States.
“So our plan was first to talk to President Gallogly,” the student said. “(His assistant said) that he has no time. And so that's when I asked, ‘So you're telling me that people that are facing deportation are not a priority at all?’ And she said, ‘I don't know what to tell you.’”
Last October, 6,000 students were notified that they could not enroll until they paid off their outstanding balance with the bursar’s office, said Lauren Brookey, OU vice president of marketing and communications. More than 5,500 holds have been resolved now, Brookey said, but there are still 454 students with enrollment holds, 18 of those being international students who rely on student visas to stay in the United States.
“I had heard some reference to the fact that we were targeting international students,” Brookey said. “That is not accurate, but there is no doubt about it that it’s a particular challenge for international students who have outstanding balances.”
Brookey said international students are not eligible for federal financial aid and it is harder for them to secure private financing such as loans. Though it is harder for them to get funding, Brookey said the university uses the same strategies to help them as they do for students who are U.S. citizens.
The international student said she is desperately trying to get a loan, but she has to find a co-signer. She has asked several people from church and other friends, but has not gotten a definite response from anyone. If she is not able to get the loan and her visa status is changed, she said she won’t try to stay in the country since she will not be able to work.
Talking to OU President James Gallogly was important to the student because even though she has a plan, she is worried there are others who don’t have a plan or a hope of paying their balance off. She wanted to sit down with him and just let him know the situation and for him to show that the students being affected are a priority.
A previous media report incorrectly said that international students met with Gallogly about the situation, but he referred the student to vice president of Bursar Services Matt Hamilton. The student said she has also spoken with Jane Irungu, interim associate vice president for University Community, and administrators in the College of International Studies.
In her home country, the student’s major she is so close to finishing is not offered. She will have to either get an education in a different field or simply find work to support her family.
The university does not terminate the visas, but by federal law Brookey said the university is required to communicate when someone is no longer an enrolled student.
“We’re here to help students attend college and we have lots of individuals dedicated to supporting students in that process and our goal is to make sure every student who wants to attend college can, but we are limited and we are even-handed in terms of how we apply policies and legal requirements,” Brookey said.
The student said she is not asking the university to break the law, but to reevaluate how their policies affect international students. Before last semester, the bursar’s office looked at outstanding balances on a case-by-case basis.
The student said that even if she was allowed to enroll for this semester, she would still have to pay off her balance by graduation, and that’s something she thinks is doable. But if she isn’t given that time, she is unsure if her OU credits will transfer or if she will have to start all over at a university in her home country.
“We're just asking for some time and ... at least have consideration of the cases,” the student said. “If this was happening to me a year ago … I would totally understand that. But I'm only three classes short from graduating … It feels like they only want their money, and we're gonna give them the money, but just we're asking for a little bit of time.”