Now, Fang is assessing whether he wants to pay around $ 60,000 a year to study distance from China. If he does, he will not have all of the unexpected interactions and conversations that usually accompany a school experience.
Living with uncertainty
For now, Chinese national Chen Na, 29, is unaffected by Monday’s changes.
At New York University (NYU), where Chen is halfway through a two-year master’s, his courses will be a combination of online and offline courses at the start of the fall semester.
But there is a chance that NYU can return to online courses only, as it did in March.
“I can’t stop thinking about it,” she said. “I just feel helpless and vulnerable. I will do my best to stay here legally. “
If courses are offered online only, transfer to another university will not be an option – few other schools offer the interactive telecommunications program that Chen is studying.
Instead, she would have to try to return to China, which would be expensive.
When Chen heard the rule change for the first time, she felt desensitized, as several other policies make things more difficult for international students.
In May, for example, the New York Times and Reuters announced that the United States plans to cancel the visas of thousands of graduate Chinese students and researchers linked to universities affiliated with the People’s Liberation Army. In April, Republican Senator Tom Cotton suggested that Chinese students at American universities should not be allowed to study science and technology. The Trump administration has also made a litany of changes to the U.S. immigration system, citing the coronavirus pandemic, which prevented a multitude of immigrants from coming to the country.
“We don’t have a lot of power here, and sometimes we become the sacrifice of all these political games,” said Chen. “I am really aware of my status as a foreigner here, I know that I am a foreigner. I don’t necessarily see growing hostility from other people, but I feel like politically wise, it crushes us. “
The difficulty of coming home
It may be more difficult for some students to return home than for others.
Theresa Cardinal Brown, director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, says a student may not be able to go home.
“The biggest problem is that some of these countries have travel restrictions and can’t go home, so what do they do then? She added. “It is an enigma for many students. ”
India, the second largest source of international students in the United States, has closed its borders to commercial flights, although it continues to operate repatriation flights.
Maitri Parsana, who has just completed her third year of biological sciences at the University of Buffalo in New York State, does not know how she would return to India if she was forced to leave.
Her university said it would offer hybrid courses, but the 22-year-old state of Gujarat still doesn’t know whether its specific courses will be online or offline.
Parsana says there are no flights to India, but she hopes her government will organize flights to bring the stranded students home.
“I’m really scared, I really don’t know what to do. I was already stressed by my school and now I have to stress one last thing, “she said, adding that the United States seems to focus more on international students. than tackling real issues like the pandemic.
“We just feel like we are being chased out of this country for no reason. “
It is not only students who could be hurt by Monday’s decision. It could also have an impact on the US economy.
In 2018, students from China, India and South Korea alone contributed more than $ 25 billion to the economy, according to the nonprofit Institute for International Education.
If students are forced to leave the country, they may not be willing to continue paying tuition fees to study remotely from a different time zone.
Nicholas Henderson, Co-Founder and Director of Essai Education, a Delhi-based test preparation and counseling institute for Indian students wishing to study in the United States, said regulations could prompt colleges to change their policies to hybrid models , for example, to help people stay.
“I think what Covid has shown is that universities are ready to work with students,” he said.
But even so, there is the risk that American policies will discourage future students from choosing to study in the United States.
When Parsana first came to the United States, she planned to try to settle there. Now she says she does not want to live in the United States and would encourage students looking to study abroad to consider another country, such as Australia or Canada.
“I don’t know what (the US government) is trying to do because their economy will collapse if they do,” said Parsana. “If they continue to apply these kinds of rules, few people will come here for their studies. “
If international students are sent home early, it is not only their education that will be affected. Students could end up missing job opportunities – often one of the reasons they chose to study in the United States in the first place.
In the United States, international students qualify for a program that allows them to work in the country after graduation.
A 24-year-old South Korean university student said he was “disappointed” that because of Monday’s policy change, he might miss this program. CNN has agreed not to use her real name due to concerns about confidentiality.
He only has one semester left and when he signed up for his classes, they were all offline. Now they have switched to online courses, and it looks like he will have to go home or be transferred to another university for his final semester.
“I have no idea what’s going on,” he said. “I have just renewed my house contract. ”
If he returns home, he will not be eligible for the temporary work program – and if he wants to work in the United States, he will probably have to find a company to sponsor his visa.
“I am so frustrated,” he said. “I just want to have at least a few opportunities to compete. ”
Chen is faced with a similar situation. Before the pandemic, she planned to stay in the United States and find a job after graduating in 2021. But now, Chen is assessing whether the United States is the best place to be, after all.
“I wonder if it’s really worth going through all of this … instead of finding a country that values me more,” she said.
CNN’s Esha Mitra has contributed to this story from New Delhi.