Vietnamese students in US still staying wary despite lifting of deportation threat

Vietnamese students in US remain wary despite lifting of deportation threat. A visa rule reversal has provided relief, but Vietnamese students in the U.S. remain worried about the stability of their status.
July 20, 2020 | 09:13
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Vietnamese students in the U.S. remain worried about the stability of visa rule status. (Photo: illustration)

A visa rule reversal has provided relief, but Vietnamese students in the U.S. remain worried about the stability of their status.

"I almost cried with relief. But I was also furious," says Nguyen Minh Phuong a Vietnamese graduate student in the University of Georgia. "They turned our lives upside down for a week. What’s next?"

Phuong was referring to the Trump administration rescinding a rule that required foreign students to leave the U.S. if their colleges stopped offering on campus classes in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic that is ravaging the country.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the new policy a week ago, subjecting foreign students to deportation if they did not attend classes on campus as universities grappled with the question of whether or not to reopen campuses during the pandemic.

The rule was rescinded after two Ivy League universities – Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology – filed a lawsuit against it.

"I won’t have to move to another school with hybrid courses to maintain my status, so of course I feel good after a week full of stress and anxiety," said Le Hong Hanh, a 21-year-old Vietnamese student at the University of Southern California.

Nguyen Thanh Anh, 20, shared the sense of relief after the whole of last week looking for face masks offering greater protection if had to return to campus soon.

"If I stay at home and have online lessons, I am deported. If I go to campus, I may get infected. But now that anxiety is gone," said Anh, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in finance at George Washington University.

But the relief the Vietnamese students feel is accompanied by uncertainty as they realize that their education in America can easily become a political target. Many are concerned that the authorities could come up with other regulations as the fall semester nears.

"They sent us a storm with no humanity and decency, and now they revoke it. Why has our life as an international student become so unstable in the U.S.?" asked Nguyen Huy Hoang of Wilmington University.

He said he wants to spend time and energy to study and research instead of "worrying that we do not belong here or becoming a target forcing universities to open amid the pandemic."

Hoang had considered moving and had talked with his landlord about the lease. He has had to change his plans with the rescinding of the order, "but I know I must be ready for any new policies towards international students by the authorities. I have to stay alert."

Phong Nguyen, his roommate, shared the uncertainty and tension, saying the authorities playing hot and cold makes him tired.

"The coronavirus per se is not tiring enough?" the graduate student in cybersecurity asked, rhetorically.

"But at least we are here, staying in the U.S. Online courses are okay for us if the authorities do not come up with any new inhumane regulations," Hoang said.

‘Buying discomfort’

The new uncertainty and concern about their future status has also made many Vietnamese students, whose parents pay thousands of dollars for their education in the U.S., rethink their choice.

After the "unnecessary stress," Nguyen Trong Khoi, graduate student at Utica College, is regretting that he chose to pursue higher education in America.

"If the administration does not want international students like me to be in this country, they should have told us before we are here, then we would never have come," he said, adding he does not pay more than $40,000 per year "to buy discomfort or the feeling of being unwelcome."

Luong Anh Dao, 24, a graduate student at American University, said she feels disappointed as her American dream "is slowly shattering after they put us on a roller coaster for a week."

"They said that America is great, and we come here not only to take something for us, we also contribute. Why don't they see that and welcome us?"

According to a report from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program of the United States Department of Homeland Security earlier this year, Vietnam is a top 10 country sending students to higher education institutions in the U.S.

A report from the U.S.-based Institute of International Education says around 25,000 Vietnamese students spent nearly $1 billion on studying in U.S. colleges and universities last year.

However, the prestige and value of an American education has kept the American dream alive for some Vietnamese students and their parents.

Nguyen Anh, new student in international affairs at the George Mason University, has agreed to home-based learning for the coming fall semester, hoping he will be able to find a good job with an "American-made degree." He added that being a student in the U.S. was one of his best achievements.

Phuong still hopes to find a job in the country after her graduation next year.

"I just want to be at ease to pursue my dreams, and I miss it when things were normal last fall."

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