International student enrollment drops amid COVID-19 restrictions

The International Student Program at El Camino College began seeing an enrollment decline for F-1 student visa holders starting the spring of 2020, going from about 550 students in spring to about 350 in the fall.

These F-1 Visas allow International students to legally study in the United States as nonimmigrants for up to five years to complete their academic programs.

However, Admissions and Records and Enrollment Services still allowed students to take classes online in their home country regardless of their visa status.

“When the pandemic started in January, some of them were prevented to get into [the United States] because they were in China or other countries that limited their entries,” Lindsey Ludwig, director of the International Student Program said.

Aside from travel restrictions, some other factors that contribute to this enrollment drop are the yearly increase of non-resident tuition, safety concerns and cost of living near Los Angeles.

Regardless of these obstacles, international students continue taking classes at ECC from their own homes with the help of the International Student Program (ISP) making their resources available virtually.

“At the end of the spring semester we made phone calls to each student, we did surveys to make sure that students were supported for their safety and well-being, that they had proper access to all basic needs,” Ludwig said.

As ISP staff found that international students were supported and safe, they prioritized helping students with academic counselors and made sure they’re maintaining their visa status with immigration advisers.

“We usually do three monthly events for the students; one’s academic, one’s social, one’s more immigration-wise,” Ludwig said. “This month we had a visa workshop, we had a game night, and we’re doing virtual tours with the librarians.”

The ISP also has a program called International Warriors, a student-led program that has the goal of connecting international students together to find a supportive community.

“International Warriors is like a bridge between international students and our ISP staff,” Nhu Nguyen, member of the International Warriors engagement team said. “We can tell them our experience being in El Camino, how they can achieve their goals successfully, tell them our stories coming to the US.”

Hailing from Vietnam, even an International Warrior like Nguyen worried that she might be deported back to her country if it took too long before she could renew her F-1 visa.

“Because COVID cases are really high, I was thinking ‘who’s going to take care of me, there’s no family here, how can I be safe?’” Nguyen said. “But, I saw there were more risks to go back than just staying here. That’s why I’m going to continue my education.”

Xiao Zhao, a 27-year-old International Warrior from China, chose to remain in the United States with the same intent to continue her education as a computer science major, despite challenges.

“It is a difficult time, but when International Warriors have events like Tea Time, we can answer their questions, we can help out each other and even make friends,” Zhao said.

The International Student Program also utilizes social media by using their Instagram and website in order to provide international students with immediate help, timely information on academic matters and more campus resources.

“We really want to make sure that all the students are taken care of. They’re far from home, they’re far from family, it’s a scary time,” Ludwig said. “We just want to make sure that they complete their program of studies safely.”