Senseless anxiety: that’s the only way Navraj LamiChhane can describe his mood for the past week.
LamiChhane, a 28-year-old man from Nepal, recently graduated from Washington State University in Vancouver and is pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Portland. But the Trump administration’s July 6 announcement that it would require international students to take some college courses in person — or else face deportation — had LamiChhane and his fellow international students in a state of panic.
“They want to have this American experience,” he said. “We are losing everything in the blink of an eye.”
On Tuesday, facing mounting pressure from universities and private businesses, as well as eight federal lawsuits, the Trump administration reversed the rule in a federal courtroom in Boston. That means international students whose colleges have moved coursework online to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus will be able to stay in the United States.
“We all knew it was senseless,” LamiChhane said minutes after the decision was announced. “It doesn’t solve anything. It doesn’t help anything. … Oh my God, it’s a lot of anxiety the past few days.”
Last week’s announcement by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement threatened the residency of hundreds of thousands of students across the United States as coronavirus cases continue to increase. Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were the first to sue the administration over the rule, with another 200 higher education institutes signing on in support of the lawsuit.
State Attorney General Bob Ferguson on Friday announced a lawsuit against the administration, estimating the decision put 27,000 Washington students’ immigration status at risk as colleges seek to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
“The Trump administration is undermining public safety decisions made at the local level and jeopardizing more than a billion dollars in tuition revenue and economic activity in order to pursue a political goal of keeping schools open in the fall,” Ferguson wrote in a statement.
Clark College and WSU Vancouver have an estimated 150 international students between the two institutions. Clark College previously announced it would keep most of its classes online through the fall quarter, with some exceptions for courses that require hands-on assignments.
“We are relieved by the announcement and have notified our international students that they will be able to continue studies online at Clark this fall term,” Clark College President Karin Edwards said in an announcement. “Colleges need latitude to make careful decisions that put students’ health and safety first.”
WSU Vancouver, meanwhile, will move to a hybrid model, holding some smaller classes in person with proper social distancing and mandatory mask wearing. But with COVID-19 cases mounting, it’s impossible to say whether the conditions in the fall will allow colleges to remain open.
“International students are critical to the success of WSU Vancouver,” Chancellor Mel Netzhammer said. “I’m pleased that they will be part of our campus community next semester, regardless of the delivery format used for their courses.”
LamiChhane’s journey to the United States is a story of tragedy, luck and grit. He was orphaned at 6 after his mother died, and grew up at a Swiss orphanage outside Kathmandu. In 2013, when LamiChhane was pursuing a college degree in Nepal, he met Skyview High School teacher Beverly Questad, who was abroad on a volunteer trip. The two developed a close bond; she helped him practice his English and write SAT essays. Five years ago, she offered him a place in her home so he could attend WSU Vancouver.
LamiChhane graduated from WSU Vancouver in 2018 with a degree in business administration. He’s now nearing completion of a master’s degree in nonprofit management. He dreams of someday returning to Nepal to develop renewable energy programs in electricity-strapped communities.
LamiChhane believes studying in the United States has enriched his life and prepared him for a future career, and that his story has left its mark on Americans who hear it.
He hopes the whiplash of the last week, as stressful as it’s been, reminds people of the value he and other international students bring to the United States. Still, he said, this type of stress for students already navigating a pandemic was “senseless.”
“(Trump) started to poke a hole in the social safety net of international students,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m just glad students don’t have to panic.”