International students face financial hardships amid COVID-19

By Ashley Dwy

DeKALB – COVID-19 has put many people out of a job. The unemployment rate in 2020 climbed to 14.7%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. International students, whose visas require them to work on campus, have also struggled to earn money because the pandemic left them without jobs.

“Some [international students] who already graduated have applied to over 5,000 jobs, with no response back,” said Lisa Dietrich, executive director for the Network of Nations.  “There is a lot of financial stress, worry and depression for students.”

Lisa Dietrich, executive director for the Network of Nations speaks via Zoom.

International students are facing instability and uncertainty as they confront the requirements needed in order for them to maintain their student visas. This uncertainty raises stress and anxiety, and the need for mental health resources, according to a report made by the American College Health Association.

International students especially struggled because, in order for them to maintain their student visas, they must have a job on campus. 

Pablo Tobar Manzo, music graduate student from Columbia, has lost his means of earning money –  performing live for an audience. Instead, he said he is trying to find ways to use his full 20 legal hours in order to earn enough to live.

“Columbia has a really low currency compared to the U.S. dollar – that’s why it’s difficult for my parents to help me,” Manzo said. “With $100, you can live there. Here, you have to pay almost $500 for rent.”

Because it is hard for their families to help, international students look for other ways to supplement the loss of money. 

“Before the [COVID-19] situation, I used to have some [music] gigs around DeKalb, Chicago and other parts of Illinois to play my saxophone or the flute,” Manzo said. “But now, everything’s gone. So, basically, my job on campus is the only way to earn money here.”

The Network of Nations wants to help supplement their food because of their financial struggle amidst the pandemic, so they are setting up a weekly food drive from 5 to 6 p.m. Fridays at the Emmanuel Lutheran Church, 511 Russell Road, Dietrich said. They accept food donations with their drive-thru drop off. 

The biggest problem as an international student – especially during the pandemic – is the financial problem, graduate student Sina Tayebati said. 

Graduate student Sina Tayebati speaking via Zoom.

“I didn’t have that much support from my family financially; I didn’t have a lot of savings; I didn’t have any jobs over the summer,” Tayebati said. “I got my [TA] contract one month late because of the financial problems of the university. Basically, we are very, very limited money-wise, and living expenses are very high for us.”