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BMC Public Health






Since the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, the number of international students in the United States had been gradually increasing. However, the total numbers have begun to decrease since 2019–2020 school year due to the Trump administration's policy and COVID-19. Still, little is known about how international students’ psychological adjustment and well-being have been affected by changing nonimmigrant visa policy and the COVID-19 pandemic.
We conducted a total of 34 online semi-structured in-depth interviews with international students from 18 countries of origin studying in the San Francisco Bay Area, California. More than 60% of the participants (21 out of 34) were aged 21 to 25. Among our 34 participants, gender and 18 were male and 16 were female, and 19 were undergraduate students and 15 were master’s students. The majority of the participants were first-generation college students (22/34, 64.71%). Verbatim transcription was done for all interviews. NVivo was used for both deductive and inductive approaches to the qualitative analysis.
Overall, the recent political climate negatively impacted participants’ psychology of adjustment and well-being. July 6, 2020 Policy Directive for international students caused severe uncertainty about whether they can continue studying in the United States. There were many resources or services needed to overcome this period, such as extended mental and emotional support from the counseling services as well as financial and informational support from the international student office and university. Although international students had the benefit of the university's food assistance program, they were not eligible to receive any external support outside of the university and financial aid at the local and federal levels. Whether maintaining F-1 visa status was one of their major concerns. Due to COVID-19, job opportunities were limited, which made international students difficult to obtain Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and secure a job in the United States within the 90-day unemployment limit of Optical Practical Training (OPT). H-1B visa and permanent residency were other challenges to go through, but participants saw positive perspectives from the Biden administration.
Uncertain policy changes due to COVID-19 and presidential transitions impacted international students’ psychological well-being and adjustment. International students are important populations in the United States who have supported jobs that are high in demand and economically contributed to the United States. It is expected that future policies at various levels support international students’ life and improve their health equity and mental health.


International student, July 6, 2020 Policy Directive, 2020 presidential election, Social adjustment, Mental health, Psychological well-being, Nonimmigrant visa, Permanent residency, In-depth interview, Qualitative study


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