Easing the Burden

by Emmanuel Agyemang

While coming to the United States to study
seems like a dream come true, international
students can face seemingly insurmountable
hurdles—which leads to a mental health crisis.

Content Warning: Suicide

For many international students, moving to the United States is a privilege. Students who come to the United States as international students carry a lot of burden and pressure. Families back home expect these students to be successful in the United States, attain permanent resident status, and send money home if they are able. International students who go back to their home countries are stigmatized for being unable to make the United States their permanent home. Furthermore, even when they return home, international students find it very difficult to readjust to their home countries; they become foreigners in their own land.

Due to these huge expectations and pressures from home, most international students are not able to go back to their home countries even when they really want to—they will just be branded as failures (Xiao et al., 2019). Hence, there is a lot of anxiety that stems from the uncertainty international students face in the United States. International students have one year in the United States after their graduation to work or to volunteer. After that, they must be sponsored by their employer or leave the United States. Many employers refuse to hire international students because of the cost of sponsoring their work visa. Even if an employer decides to sponsor the work visa, things are still uncertain—the work visa is a lottery and not based on merit. Hence, there is no guarantee that even after meeting all the requirements you will get it. When President Trump suspended the H1B work visa in 2020 (Maura 2020), international students panicked.

Most employers refuse to go through this uncertainty. International students who have hopes of working in the United States are forced to wrestle with the fact that they might have to return to their home countries where their skills would be underutilized. Suddenly, hopes of a brighter future seem distant and the cold embrace of death seems appealing. Many international students deal with suicidal thoughts and attempts. To most international students, perhaps, death is a much safer plight than returning to their home countries and being branded as failures and disappointments.

The anxiety, uncertainty, and being culturally isolated is enough to cause mental anguish to any victim. The mental health of international students deserves more attention and discussion.

Furthermore, international students would be better served by having mental health counselors in their schools who are familiar with the problems international students face and can better empathize with them. Also, international students can reach out to the suicide prevention hotline at 800-273-8225 to help cope with suicidal thoughts.

One can advocate for international students through the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers at nafsa.org. NAFSA advocates for common sense immigration policies for international students in the United States. You can donate to the organization or stay tuned to the organization’s updates in order to be more informed about immigration issues.

About Emmanuel Agyemang

Emmanuel Agyemang is an international student from Ghana
and a recent graduate of Bradley University with a degree in Political
Science. He has an interest in pursuing law in the near future.