International students’ social and emotional health in the United States during COVID-19 due to the effect of changing nonimmigrant visa policy: A qualitative study

Publication Date


Document Type


Publication Title

American Public Health Association (APHA) 2022 Annual Meeting & Expo

Conference Location

Boston, MA


For international students, the 2020-2021 academic year was the most challenging time due to the COVID-19 pandemic policy changes. COVID-19 has had a negative impact on the mental health of U.S. college students in general, however international students have additional psychological distress due to limited access to mental health services and feelings of isolation. Little is known about the impact of the recent change in nonimmigrant visa policy and COVID-19 on international students.
We conducted a qualitative study of 34 semi-structured online in-depth interviews with international students whose age is 18 or older from various foreign countries studying at the university in the San Francisco Bay Area, California. We used convenience and purposive sampling methods to recruit participants. The interviews were transcribed verbatim, and NVivo was used for both deductive and inductive approaches to the qualitative analysis.
It was found that participants’ social and emotional health was negatively affected by the recent political climate, particularly July 6 Directive on the F-1 visa policy. Participants’ main concerns were about visa compliance and the uncertainty of continuing to study abroad in the United States. Participants stated that immediate need of resources or services during this time were extended mental/emotional support from the counseling services and financial/informational support from the international student office and university.
International students’ social and emotional health has been neglected during the COVID-19 pandemic. Future policies at the school level should promptly address international students’ concerns to assist them to overcome any unexpected political climate.


Public Health and Recreation