International student enrollment increasing despite COVID-19 pandemic

International students at Kent State University make up 7.2% of the student body, and despite the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, international student enrollment is increasing. 

Marcello Fantoni, associate provost for the Office of Global Education, said there has been a 17% increase in international student enrollment for the fall 2020 semester. 

“The number of international students who have applied for fall 2020, both graduates and undergraduates, are higher than any other academic year,” Fantoni said. “But the number of admitted students has dropped dramatically by 26%.” 

Fantoni said one of the most common issues that led to this drop in international students’ admission is the increased financial distress in light of COVID-19. 

“Not all families are able to pay for their children to come to America,” he said. 

Fantoni said Kent State provides international students with financial aid, but more than 30% of the international students enrolled at the university are sponsored by the U.S. or foreign government, international organizations or public or private companies. 

Countries represented by sponsored students include Saudi Arabia, Oman, Brazil, Iraq, Libya, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Tunisia, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Vietnam, Russia, Namibia, Panama and Ecuador. 

Fantoni said the fact that international students may not be able to obtain visas due to the suspension of routine visa services at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world also led to the drop in the international admission rate. 

“We have no control over it,” Fantoni said. 

The Office of Global Education contacted the international students planning to attend Kent State this fall and suggested they postpone their arrival until Spring 2021. 

“If they could not come in the fall due to flights being banned, that does not necessarily mean that these students are lost,” Fantoni said.

The majority of Kent State’s current international students returned home when the university canceled in-person classes due to COVID-19. And as most countries, like Saudi Arabia and China, are banning international flights, this may also make it harder, or impossible, for students to return to the U.S. for the fall semester. 

“Even though the university is open in the fall, my country’s airport may not be open,” Moh Alanazi, an international student from Kuwait, said. “All I can do now is pray and hope for the best to happen.” 

Immigration regulations state that a stay outside of the U.S. for more than five months is considered a break in F-1(student visa) status. After an absence of more than five months, an F-1 student is no longer admissible to the U.S. as a “continuing student.” After five months, the student must be issued a new certificate of eligibility for nonimmigrant students.

The Office of Global Education has been working remotely since March 10 in response to the university’s new COVID-19 guidelines. They developed new forms of communication like reaching students on social media and Zoom and worked to communicate with students more often than they used to before going remote, Fantoni said. 

“It is really a matter of students dealing with our same uncertainties,” he said.

 Contact Ray Bukhari at [email protected].