UMD International Graduate Students Amid the Pandemic

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International graduate students are essential components to the University of Maryland’s mission and vision. Through our research, teaching, and service, we develop and complete scientific and artistic projects, while promoting transnational collaboration. We are crucial members of the community who contribute to the cultural diversity and the multicultural understanding that the University promotes. In these uncertain times we ask that the University administration listens to and supports its international community.

The current health and economic crisis caused by COVID-19 is affecting everyone. International students confront huge challenges of our own, experiencing financial and bureaucratic constraints. The pandemic affects our degree timeline and critically threatens our options for the future. Most international students have found themselves unable to travel, either inside or outside the U.S., while others are currently abroad in their home countries and might be unable to return to the U.S., depending on how the pandemic continues evolving. Our immigration status (as F-1 and J-1 VISA holders, primarily) prevents us from taking advantage of alternative financial resources that are available to other graduate students. While many international students who are Graduate Assistants at UMD received a stimulus check from the Federal Government, many were not eligible for it because they are not considered residents for tax purposes. This upcoming summer will present even more acute challenges to those international students whose everyday life depends upon a now uncertain salary, especially with regard to paying rent in one of the most expensive areas for renters in a national scale. 

It is of critical urgency that the University of Maryland demonstrates its commitment to the international student community by means of funding and support. The aim would be to guarantee on-time completion or funded program extensions to account for pandemic-related delays, in cases where current funding sources do not make this accommodation. Currently, we lack structures and networks within the University to support us. In the face of the aforementioned situations, the signatories of this letter respectfully urge the University of Maryland authorities to: 

1. Ensure summer financial support in the form of GAships or scholarships for international students in need. We urge the UMD administration, the Graduate School, Directors of Graduate Studies, and Department Chairs to advocate for international students and mobilize resources to support us during the summer. This request also includes students that are sponsored by external agencies and institutions. 

2. Summon a virtual International Student Town Hall with the Provost, the Dean of the Graduate School, and a representative from the International Student and Scholar Services to raise a conversation about these and other topics of great relevance for the well-being and academic tranquility of the international students’ community. The time frame for this meeting is dictated by the affected students’ funding situation, and would ideally happen by Friday May 29. 

International students belong to the community of the University of Maryland in a distinctive way. We are far from our homes and loved ones but we have found in this institution our second home. We are proud contributors to the outstanding academic community of the University of Maryland. We are passionate scholars, teachers, scientists, activists, and artists who advance the university’s mission. We are fearless. In these daunting times, we believe the only way to continue being strong contributors to the university is with the demonstrated support of our academic institution.