Seren Hansiei

Provided photo

International students attending the University of Oklahoma could be forced to abruptly leave the country if the COVID-19 pandemic requires the school to revert solely to virtual education.

Students, who are attending the university on a visa, say they’re facing uncertainty after learning of a new federal policy that would bar them from remaining in America if university classes go completely online for the fall 2020 semester. U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Monday that international students will have 10 days from when their university announces they are moving strictly to online classes to leave the country or face “immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”

As of now OU offers a mixture of online and in-person classes for the 2020 fall semester.

Biomedical engineering doctoral candidate at OU, Seren Hansiei, who is from Turkey, and holds a student visa, said the new regulations are a “nightmare.”

“Nobody is informing us (on what is going to happen),” Hansiei said. “Right now OU is half online and half face to face, but that can change. With cases (of COVID-19) in Oklahoma rising up they’re also uncertain about this.”

Hansiei said she doesn't know what to do. She has to pay her rent and car payment on top of trying to get her doctorate. The new regulations are overwhelming, she said.

“As a PH.D. student, we are already trying to do so many things like research, teaching assistant and all that,” Hansiei said. “Now, because of (the new regulations) we have to focus on those issues, and we cannot focus on our research right now.”

In the 2020 spring semester there were 1,548 international students enrolled at OU. They comprised up about 5.9 percent of the total student population.

In a statement, Kesha Keith, a university spokeswoman, said international students – who have already been disproportionately affected by the pandemic – are essential to OU’s teaching and research as well as the community.

“The university is committed to supporting them,” she said. “The latest guidance issued by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement presents an array of anxieties and uncertainties, now most acutely for our international student community. Though the new guidance is not yet final, OU is closely reviewing it to assess how it might impact the university’s international students and is actively working with state, federal and campus partners to create meaningful solutions that will address the needs of OU students.”

 Biomedical engineering doctoral candidate, Gojhan Gunaui, of Turkey, said he feels sad and betrayed by these new regulations.

“People like us, international students, sacrifice so much to come here,” Gunaui said. “We try to do everything right — we pay our taxes, we follow all the rules and all that. We just want to get an education.”

If he does have to return to Turkey, Gunaui said he's not sure he'll be able to come back.

The 10 day time frame that is given for students to leave the country is an impossible expectation for international students, Gunaui said.

“(International students) can’t take everything they own back to their country,” Gunaui said. “We have to tell (our landlords) that we have to move out early, and we can’t pay the rent. Plus some people have houses and will have to notify the bank that they won’t be able to pay them. We also have to buy a ticket in that time frame, and not a lot of people have money to buy a flight on short notice.”

Emma Keith contributed to this story

Reese Gorman


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