When Yidong “Sailor” Miao went home to China in May, he was still holding on to hope that he could attend William & Mary for his freshman year in the fall.
But months later Miao has accepted that being an international student means he most likely won’t get the chance to attend college in the fall.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently announced new restrictions that prevent international students to return to the U.S. or remain in the country for remote-only instruction. In a letter to students, William & Mary President Katherine A. Rowe said the regulations replace the prior flexibility granted to students and university during the coronavirus pandemic.
“These regulations are unfair, unfeasible, and threaten William & Mary’s teaching and research mission as a global university,” Rowe wrote in the letter. “They compound the uncertainty and concern brought on by pandemic and go against every value we hold as an institution.”
And for students like Miao, that level of uncertainty is even more real.
Miao attended a high school in Alabama the past four years as part of an international exchange program. But when the pandemic hit, his parents had him come home to China.
Miao missed his American prom, his senior graduation and now he faces the possibility of missing his first year at an American college, a dream he’s had for years.
“It’s been really hard and I was in denial at first,” he said. “But the opening date for William & Mary is approaching and I realize I have to face reality. I want to be like the other students in the states, but I have no way to change things so I guess the best way for me to cope is just to accept it.”
William & Mary announced in June its plans to reopen in the fall with alterations to the schedule and other safety precautions in place. The semester is set to start Aug. 24, but international students like Miao fear they’ll be left behind.
Rowe wrote in the letter William & Mary is working with other universities to urge the federal government to change the new restriction.
“Given the travel bans and delays now in place, we are thinking creatively and proactively about how to accommodate the diverse situations faced by international students this year,” Suzanne Clavet, spokeswoman for the college, wrote in an email.
William & Mary is encouraging newly-admitted international students to consider enrolling in the spring instead of the fall, if travel for fall 2020 is not a possibility. The college is also exploring the options of fully online course plans for the fall.
Clavet said the college is also working with its international partner universities, such as Beijing Normal University in China and the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, to arrange potential study abroad opportunities.
“For international students who plan to study or conduct research in the United States this fall, we will do everything we can to ensure that you have some in-person educational experience for the entire semester,” Rowe wrote in the letter.
Miao said he feels as though the college has been trying to work with him and other international students to find the best solution, but the reality is that school will start soon and he doesn’t believe the U.S. government will make any changes. And for him as well as other students, the new changes could also impact their student visas.
“We’re worried about our futures,” he said. “It’s going to be hard, and it’s the first year of college so we really wanted that experience.”
Amy Lee is co-chair of the International Student Outreach program and the manager at Pineapple Inn & Housing Center.
She said the hostel normally has 200-230 J-1 Visa students. Right now, they have 7 and she doesn’t plan to get any more students until next year.
“The president has put a J-1 travel ban til the end of this year so we will not be getting any additional J-1 students until maybe next spring,” she said. “And that will be the same for Virginia Beach and any other place in Virginia that has J1 students.”
The seven college students staying at the hostel: 4 women from Thailand and three Turkish men do not go to William & Mary. They work at McDonalds and hotels in the area.
Lee said one of the girls is hopefully going home at the end of the month while the rest are stuck here.
“As for the William & Mary students and everything, right now its all kind of up in the air,” Lee said in terms of coming to stay at the hostel. “Housing for them won’t be a problem we certainly will be able to take them if they need them.”
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