International students prepare for a fall return to USC

Students are working to obtain necessary student visas to attend USC in person, though some remain hesitant about the future.

Los Angeles County is moving forward with wider reopenings this week, including those for indoor restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and other businesses, but international students still face hurdles as they prepare their return to campus.

Last spring, many international students chose to go back to their home countries during the pandemic and now are concerned they may not be able to return to campus on time because of international travel restrictions.

International students will have to do a number of things before they come back for next semester. They will need a valid passport, an F-1/J-1visa, and an I-20/DS with a signature from the Office of International Services.

Claire Xu is a junior majoring in communications. Xu said her Visa has expired and has not been able to renew it because the embassy remains closed.

“I believe a lot of people are going to need to renew their visa,” Xu said. “And I think it’s going to be challenging because there are so many international students in China.”

Though Xu is getting comfortable with online classes, she says she would like to eventually return to campus.

“Although it’s not like the physical in-person college experience, I do think online classes have some advantages,” Xu said. “But I mean, I don’t really like to stay at home every day just watching recordings, doing my homework.”

For Aastha Jani, a sophomore majoring in communications, the visa and I-20 process has also been complicated. After a difficult transition in Spring 2020 to an online class schedule from Dubai that kept her up till the early hours of the morning on Zoom, Jani took a leave of absence this past fall, which also meant she forfeited her I-20 by unenrolling.

She tried to return to campus for Spring 2020, but she wasn’t able to use the I-20 she applied and paid for after the university canceled its plan for hybrid classes. In the meantime, she takes classes each night from about 7:30 p.m. to midnight and works an internship during the day, but she hopes to return to the United States soon. Jani plans to apply for her I-20 again for the upcoming fall semester, but if the university shirks its plans for in-person classes again, she would have to continue learning from home.

“It could still be like three weeks before they decide there’s not going to be any in-person classes, and I will just be here again,” she said. “I’m trying to be cautiously optimistic.”

Jia Li, a business administration major,  has been in China since last year. She believes  returning to campus would certainly make a difference for her.

“I really want to stay in the classroom and listen to the lecture in person,” Li said.  Because of the time zone difference, attending classes in person would be much easier for her.

“Based on the current situation and the severe uncertainty of COVID, once we go back to campus, it’s going to be different compared to what we had like a year ago,”  Li said.  “I’m going to follow [what] most people do if most of my classmates ... decide to go back to America, then probably I would.”

Attending lectures in person also means being closer to friends and having access to the resources on campus, Melissa Mancini, a graduate student studying public relations and advertising, said. This is her first year as a graduate student at USC, and she has not set foot on campus yet.

Mancini lives in Toronto, Canada, and similar to Li, Xu and Jani, Mancini needs to get a visa sorted out before coming to campus. The vaccine has been rolling out to more and more people in Los Angeles, but Mancini has not been able to obtain her vaccination in Canada.

Mancini does not need the vaccine to step foot on campus. She said being vaccinated would make her feel more comfortable, but with or without it Mancini plans to be here when the campus reopens.

“My program’s only two years, so I don’t want to lose out on not coming on campus and having the whole program be like an online experience,” Mancini said. “I’m just hoping that I can get the vaccine before and I’m kind of preparing just knowing that I’m always going to be wearing my mask.”

For Mancini and scores of international students the news from USC is mixed.  LA is opening up once more. They simply need to find a way to get there.