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Ohio University Launches International Student Emergency Relief
Ohio Ag Connection - 07/07/2020

Ohio University staff, the International Student Task Force, and community members are working together to support international students who have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The university has launched the International Student Emergency Relief Fund to raise support for individuals who, due to visa restrictions, are unable to work off-campus and need to pay for rent, food, and other necessities to continue living in Athens, Ohio.

Graduate Student Senate, Student Senate, and the International Student Union will be hosting a live event, "Journey of International Bobcats During Covid-19," on the Ohio University Facebook account at 5 p.m. on July 8 to discuss student needs.

"As international students, we knew so many of our colleagues were in need this summer and we are overwhelmed and so grateful for the support of the Athens and University communities," Faustina Mensah, chair of the International Student Task Force (ISTF) and Ph.D. candidate in the Patton College of Education, said.

When the university closed in March, many international students lost on-campus jobs or had work hours reduced. According to immigration regulations, international students are unable to work off campus without specific authorization. Many students who had authorization to work off campus at paid internships lost those opportunities when businesses and organizations shut down to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The international students also are unable to receive support through the CARES ACT.

In addition, many students cannot go home for the summer or post-graduation due to international flight cancellations and border closings.

"A survey led by the ISTF estimates that between 140 to 300 international students have no source of income for the summer. Bound to year-long rental leases and not wanting to hurt the community of Athens by not paying rent, students are in need of support," Diane Cahill, director of International Services and Operations, said.

The survey also estimates that the average student owes about $600 per month for rent and utilities, or $2,400 for June, July, August, and September. At a conservative estimate of 200 students, the shortfall could be $480,000, Cahill said. Requests to the food pantry and university emergency funds have increased.

The International Student Emergency Relief Fund was launched in June and has raised $34,170 from 114 supporters as of July 2. The University hopes to reach its goal of $50,000 by mid-August.

"The Athens County Foundation generously began this effort with $10,000 in emergency funding," Cahill said.

Community member Hylie Voss noted how University and local communities have stepped up to support international students.

"I knew that once our community got wind of the predicament the international students were in this summer, they would take action," Voss said. "Area foundations, local congregations, service organizations and over 100 individuals have now contributed to the emergency relief fund. Many more have brought food and fresh produce to the Cat's Cupboard, to make sure these students do not go hungry this summer! Additionally, university faculty and staff, either individually or through departmental efforts, have provided supports to individual international students. The way so many have joined hands with the University in assisting the international students makes me proud to be a part of this community."

Ohio University students have expressed appreciation for the support.

"Ohio University has been of tremendous support to me as an international student, with the summer scholarship and its initiatives. They truly are a community filled with people who appreciate and love the international student body. For that, I am grateful," one student said.

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