International UA students run risk of inability to return to Fall classes

KNWA

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The University of Arkansas announced its plans to return to in-class learning in the Fall despite the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. Some international students will have trouble returning to campus.

“There is some concern about how the international students are going to get back,” said Amy Unruh, the Director of Communications for the UA Graduate School and International Education. “It’s not going to be impossible, but it is goi be a challenge.”

Unruh said uncertainty concerning travel visas could also hamper international students’ ability to return for the Fall semester.

The UofA reported an enrollment of 27,559 students in the Fall 2019 semester. Around 1,400 international students are enrolled, Unruh said, and 160 requested permission to travel out of the country at the end of the semester.

Travel restrictions imposed by countries could leave some with no way to return.

“Even our students who perhaps come from African countries but travel through Europe to get back to the United States will not be able to do that,” Unruh said.

Mervin Jebaraj is the Director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the UofA. Should many international students fail to return, the impact will be felt most on the graduate level and in research, he said. They also spend money, but their relatively-low numbers would allow the UofA and local economy to survive the hit.

“Foreign students are not a huge chunk of the student body here at the university, so we’re not as dependent on them as some universities might be,” Jebaraj said. “I certainly think that’s where you’re going to see the most distortion.”

There’s a small dip in overall enrollment heading into the Fall, said John Thomas, a UA spokesperson. The numbers reflect an already-anticipated reality that isn’t tied to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“That was to be expected just due to last year’s slightly smaller freshman class than years past,” Thomas said.

Students’ enrollment cutoff date was set before the outbreak began, meaning the number of students taking classes will be relatively unchanged from what it would’ve been in normal circumstances, Thomas said.

“We kinda knew going into the Fall that we were going to have pretty much the exact same numbers that we had in the freshman class last year,” Thomas said.

International students will have several options if they’re unable to return to Fayetteville, Unruh said.

“[We’ll help] either through remote delivery or delayed, deferred beginning or other options that we’re working on,” Unruh said.

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