“I Had to Transfer My Admission to Next Semester”: PhD Student Tells of Hard Times & Visa Issues Amid Pandemic

International student (1)

After more than six months of waiting for an F1 visa in 2020 as the US embassy in Bangladesh was temporarily closed and did not process these types of visas due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bangladeshi student Soumitra Das, now a PhD student in Architectural Engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the United States had to transfer university admission to next semester which started in January this year.

“The F1 visa for the students like us was temporarily closed for about eight months in 2020. So, we had to transfer our admission to next semester. Many students lost their assistantships during this transition,” he told Erudera.

Back in Bangladesh, he was not allowed to hold the master’s degree defense, despite completing most of the work to get the degree, following the university grand commission in Bangladesh imposing a policy under which students are allowed to perform classes online but must hold the defense of master’s thesis in person.

“Lab work was also impossible to be conducted as the university over there closed due to COVID-19,” Soumitra stressed.

Despite that, Soumitra said he is still seeking to get his master’s degree from the university in Bangladesh once the institution reopens. At the same time, he plans to get another master’s degree in the United States on the way of his PhD studies. 

Student Soumitra Das at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, US

Lack of International Students Due to Pandemic Led to US Unis Losing Billions

According to the Open Doors report, the United States hosted about 1,095,299 international students in the 2018/19 academic year, which has dropped since then. In 2019/20, the number of international students in the US decreased to 1,075,496, a 1.8 percent decline from the prior year.

Furthermore, data from the Institute of International Education have shown that in fall 2020, the number of international students in the US plunged 16 percent due to the COVID-19 outbreak and travel restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the virus.

NAFSA: Association of International Educators revealed that international students at US higher education institutions, including 8,838 students from Bangladesh, contributed $38.7 billion to the US economy during the 2019/20 academic year, a 4.4 percent decline or, in other words, a $1.8 billion loss compared to the previous year.

Although more students are now returning to the US, experts believe that the US education sector’s recovery is still far away. Since the beginning of the spring semester of 2021, many universities across the United States have been sceptical about holding online or in-person classes.

Soumitra said that online classes during the last semester had compromised to some extent his understanding and knowledge, which were sometimes very difficult to attend due to different time zones for those attending from overseas. He asserted that the University of Nebraska-Lincoln started in-person classes from this semester, which according to him, are more effective.

“It’s hard to socialize, and the pandemic also hampered daily routine to some extent like exercise, conference, etc. University is running classes online as well, but mostly in person from this semester. Online classes are less effective to me because of lack of interaction between student and instructor,” Soumitra added.

From January this year, Soumitra has been working on his research at Nebraska-Lincoln. He said that he hadn’t experienced any difficulties with his research in the US so far; nevertheless, he added that his lab work or research was hampered in Bangladesh.

“I think it happened in all developed and developing countries,” Soumitra stated.

Because the pandemic affected students financially and mentally due to remote learning and isolation, Soumitra told Erudera that the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has provided mental and economic support to all its students. At the same time, the institution has also dedicated a fund for the affected students, faculty, and staff.

Hundreds of US Universities Imposed Vaccine Mandates

More than 700 US universities have already required their students, faculty, and staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order for them to be eligible to return to in-person instructions for the fall semester.

Soumitra said that the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has been very careful in this regard, requiring students and employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible and asking the latter to wear masks while on campus, even the vaccinated students and employees.

“University got an emphasis on it. I got my shot back in March 2021,” he emphasized.

Student Soumitra Das taking the COVID-19 vaccine shot back in March 2021

Some US universities that have already imposed vaccine mandates include:

  • Rutgers University
  • California Institute of Technology – California
  • Colorado College – Colorado
  • University of Denver – Colorado
  • Delaware State University – Delaware
  • George Washington University – Columbia
  • Trinity Washington University – Columbia
  • Clark Atlanta University – Georgia

Harvard University has urged community members who must be present on campus in autumn to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Since August 23, 90 percent of students and 94 percent of employees at Harvard have already taken COVID-19 vaccines

After failing to adhere to the university’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement, a total of 238 students have been disenrolled from the University of Virginia before the fall semester began. 

Struggling with the high number of unvaccinated people, several universities in the United States have launched incentive programs for students and employees in a bid to convince them to get COVID-19 vaccines, including universities across Texas. These universities have offered vaccinated students the chance to win scholarships, concerts, or football tickets, free parking, and more.

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