Wary of possible visa issues and travel restrictions caused by coronavirus in the fall semester, Penn Dean of Admissions Eric Furda sent out an email earlier this week to remind incoming international students that they have the option of taking a gap year and joining the Class of 2025.
The email was sent to non-Canadian international students who do not have dual citizenship to the United States, and who were admitted through the Early Decision program.
“Assuring students in these uncertain times that they have options, given that these closings are beyond their control, seems like the right message,” Dean Eric Furda wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian. “Of course, we learn more information every day with the hope that the world can turn the corner with the pandemic and students will be able to secure their visas in time.”
To receive the F-1 visa that will allow them to enter the United States and study full-time at Penn, international students must submit numerous forms and have an interview at their country's U.S. embassy. But one month ago, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services suspended routine visa services at all embassies and consulates indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic. Depending on how long visa services are suspended, incoming international students may not be able to have the necessary appointments and documents in order to arrive in Philadelphia this fall.
International Student and Scholar Services Director Rodolfo Altamirano said embassies will resume routine visa services as soon as possible, but the timeline remains unclear for now.
"If the embassies will open it will be by city to city and country to country," Altamirano said in an email to the DP. "Uniformity is not going to happen."
Incoming Engineering first-year Arnav Jhaveri, who is from Thailand, has not yet been able to make an appointment to receive an F-1 visa. Although he is considering a gap year, he still hopes to enroll at Penn in the fall in whatever capacity he can.
“I am slowly opening up to the idea of a delayed or even an online start to the semester, and am coming to grips with the reality of the situation day by day," Jhaveri said.
Hailing from Tokyo, incoming Wharton first-year Kota Yamamoto said that there is a possibility he will take a gap year from Penn to continue his current internship at a nonprofit organization.
“It feels like I would waste my freshman year if all classes become online, which could possibly happen,” he said.
Incoming College first-year Heather Shieh is also considering taking a gap year to pursue an online-based internship if travel restrictions bar her from leaving her home in Melbourne for Philadelphia.
ISSS is currently providing up-to-date information to the international student community through virtual advising sessions, FAQs, and emails that notify students of changes in immigration policies from the U.S. Department of State or Homeland Security, according to Altamirano.
“We recognize international students are facing challenges, and we have to be very sympathetic and empathetic with their needs and concerns,” he said. “As a University, we are doing our best to make sure that all the t’s are crossed and all the i’s are dotted so that we can make the best decisions for the University and for the students.”