Foreign students fear leaving U.S. for winter break

Elizabeth Putnam

Dib Abdo wants to see his family over winter break, but he is hesitant to step on a plane.

He’s not afraid of flying. Instead, he’s afraid once he reaches his home country of Lebanon, he might not be able to return.

“Because of the security, I might not be able to get back into the country,” said Abdo, president of the Arab Student Association. “I don’t want to lose my education here in the United States because of a misunderstanding.”

Abdo is not alone.

President of the Minnesota International Student Association Sulieman Nader said he would not return home because of the risk.

“I haven’t been home for almost two years,” Nader said. “I want to see my family, but the risk of returning back here is too much.”

Kay Thomas, director of International Student and Scholar Services, said it is not business as usual for international student services.

She said ISSS might not be able to intercede on students’ behalf if they have problems returning.

“If students need to be here after the break, we can’t guarantee they will return on time,” Thomas said.

ISSS is not telling students to avoid traveling but is advising them about possible risks.

“It’s been a rumor mill for what students should do,” she said. “We are updating students based on what we find out from government services.”

Thomas said students who need a new visa stamp could run into the most problems. ISSS is advising students to take all documents proving they are full-time students at the University, such as a transcript.

“The visa stamps allow them to get back into the country, and the process might be lengthy,” Thomas said. “On the other hand, we’ve had people who have gone successfully.”

The International Service and Travel Center is advising students to check the Department of State Web site for any travel warnings and to carry U.S. embassy numbers in case of an emergency.

“We are making sure students are being more prepared with things like insurance, phone cards and airplane tickets,” said Erica Haas, assistant director of ISTC. “If students are remotely worried, then we advise them not to travel.”

The Minnesota International Center offers students dinner hospitality for various religious affiliations if they stay here for the break, said Carol Byrne, executive director of MIC.

“We place students with a host family based on the holiday that they are celebrating, such as Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Christmas,” Byrne said.

University Housing and Residential Life provides international students housing over break if they are currently living in residence halls.

Mannix Clark, assistant director of housing, said there have not been additional requests this year for temporary housing.

“Because of a shortage in housing, it is difficult to provide temporary housing over the holiday,” Clark said. “Sometimes arrangements can be made as needed.”

Elizabeth Putnam welcomes comments at [email protected]