Kicking Out F1s Won’t Help Anyone

This morning, I spent some time applying for a US passport for my youngest baby. Also today, the US government has maneuvered to kick out of the country students who arrived here with the same type of visa I came with, an F1.

If you know anyone who works at the Office of International Students in any US college, send them a bottle of wine tonight. Or better make that a case, because they are going to be working overtime for weeks to come.

But let’s go back to the beginning

Houses and green mountains
The mountain view from my childhood bedroom window.

Eighteen years ago, I sat in my room, surrounded by my beloved Spanish mountains. In front of me, the kind of computer that now you only see as a movie prop, with a bulky screen and a CPU tower. The Internet was a novelty in my house. But that novelty had allowed me to start a long distance relationship with a guy I really liked. And now, I was using it to research ways to join him in the US.

He had moved to the Midwest a few years before, to attend graduate school. By the time we started dating, he already had a job in Chicago. I had never even considered living in the US, a country I had first visited when I was 11. But after looking at different options, and knowing that I wanted to come on my own, I decided to apply for graduate school myself.

I was accepted in a couple of universities. After giving it much thought, I decided to come to Chicago, and join UIC as a Teaching Assistant, while I studied a Master in Arts. In exchange for teaching a few classes a year, UIC would cover my tuition and pay me a small stipend, enough to live here, but by no means a way to become rich.

Fast forward to today and F1 visas

The visa I had to obtain in order to become a student was an F1. An F1 visa allows you to study in the US and work on campus for a maximum of 20 hours a week.

Today, the US government, through ICE, no less, has announced that unless they are taking at least part of their classes in person, F1 visa holders have to depart the country.

Nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States.


What is the problem with this, you may wonder? How does this affect you?

Right now, there are in the US around 1 million international students. The fees they pay make up 30% of the tuition revenue of US universities and colleges. In case you didn’t know, an international student pays higher tuition than a domestic student, and on top of that they are not eligible for most scholarships. They are also paying taxes, either directly, if they happen to work on campus, or indirectly through sales taxes. They are contributing to the US economy, and they are also contributing to the US talent pool.

What this directive does is either force universities to open in person, or effectively expel more than a million people from the US.

Enter Covid-19

Many universities have spent months planning what the Fall semester will look like. Many others were planning on offering only online classes, while others were going to offer a mix of in person and remote classes. The later are receiving some backlash from faculty, because not all are thrilled about going back to petri dishes, I mean, classrooms.

If this measure forces them to rethink their plans and offer more in person classes, the risk of spread of Covid-19 in those communities may be higher. College students are busy, attending classes, visiting libraries, working outside of campus, and, let’s be honest, partying around.

Since this measure doesn’t make any sense neither regarding finances or public health, one has to think that it is just one more way for this administration to punish foreigners, and, along the way, hurt higher education institutions, which have been a repeated target of the president. The most recent example are his words this past Friday in Mount Rushmore:

“our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children.”

Going back to my personal, anecdotal story

A young woman dressed in university regalia
June 2005, my MA graduation at UIC.

I ended up marrying the guy. We stayed in Chicago, had four children, and, over the last 17 years, have paid a fair amount of our hard earned dollars to the IRS. We have added to the country, without taking anything away from it. Both of us are now proud Americans, and I would very much like to be able to stay proud, although it is harder by the day.

If you look around you, you may realize that you know a whole bunch of former F1 visa holders. Maybe it is your doctor, or your dentist. The nurse who held your hand as you were being administered general anesthesia. Your child’s teacher. The engineer who worked on your house. Or one of the many foreigners working in labs around the country trying to develop a vaccine against, you guessed it, Covid-19.

Would the US be better without them? Absolutely not. And neither will be US universities.

University comes from the Latin universitas, which means “the whole”, as in the whole world, the universe. Universities are meant to be diverse, and by that diversity, to facilitate the exchange of ideas that makes scientific advances possible. By getting rid of that exchange, you take their essence away.

Now, you may be wondering what you can do about it

It is simple. Call you representatives to ask them what they are doing about it. If knowledge and science don’t appeal to them, bring up the economy. There are so many colleges in this country that it is rare to find a community that won’t be directly impacted by this directive. Complain on behalf of those million students who cannot vote here, which makes their voices less effective when calling an alderman, a congresswoman, a senator.

Use your voice, and use your right to vote. I will for sure use mine.

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