CSUF international graduate student weighing her options in wake of new visa restrictions

FULLERTON, Calif. (KABC) -- International students studying in the U.S., including in Southern California, are wading through uncertainly following the announcement from federal immigration authorities last week that they will be forced to leave the country or transfer to another college if their schools go online-only in the fall.

Yunning Zhao of China is currently a graduate student at California State University, Fullerton. She said she's grateful for the support from her advisors, peers, professors and school as she and other international students navigate the new guidelines issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

She's less than a year away from a doctorate in education and one step closer to becoming a college professor. Zhao has been learning online because of the COVID-19 pandemic and says the new guidelines are threatening her dreams of finishing her education at Cal State Fullerton.

Zhao says she's been struggling to decide whether she'll need to transfer or learn from home, but the time difference and expensive limited flights pose significant challenges.

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One USC professor says he's decided to offer an in-person class in the fall to keep international students enrolled.

Zhao is one of nearly 20% of all international students currently enrolled in the CSU system who is a Titan, according to CSUF President Fram Virjee.

"As the president of a university that is home to approximately 2,000 international students, I am deeply troubled by this divisive, destructive, and wrongheaded decision, and vow to stand with and advocate for these students," Virjee said in a statement.

The federal guidelines have already drawn considerable push back. The CSU system and the state of California and its community colleges on Thursday filed a joint lawsuit against the federal government. Harvard, MIT and USC filed similar suits earlier in the week.

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California sued the Trump administration to challenge a new policy that would deprive foreign students of their U.S. visas if their fall classes are held solely online.

CSUF's International Student Services (ISS) department assured international students during a webinar Thursday that the university will have at least one in-person option for them this fall.

"At first I felt a little bit nervous, but after I reached out to my professor, my advisor, my peers, just feel more and more comfortable because I know they're here to support me," Zhao said.

The UC system told Eyewitness News Friday that it is planning to file its own lawsuit against the federal government in the coming week.
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