Trapped abroad: Professor visa delays the new norm?

Spencer Short – Staff Writer

Ten thousand miles away and nine hours offset from our timezone, Professor Rebekah Earnshaw, assistant theology professor at Dordt, works diligently to get her international life back in order.

An Australia native, Earnshaw made a routine trip back to her home this summer to spend time with her grandmothers, attend her brother’s wedding reception, and reflect on God’s plan in the local church. She fully expected to be back to the United States on time for the 2019 fall semester to begin, but the state of American foreign policy made that impossible.

Earnshaw’s specialty higher-education teaching visa was not processed in time for her to return by the beginning of the semester. The papers, which were supposed to be finished by the end of July, are still caught up in the red-taped covered monster that is the U.S. immigration process.Passport with travel documents

“There is lost teaching and learning, there is lost discipleship and mentoring, there is lost fellowship and community service,” said Earnshaw. “I’m reminded that things are very much outside my control. God is teaching me patience.”

With such a universal crackdown on immigration under the Trump administration, there are extra complications for anyone trying to enter the country.

Last year, Professor Joshua Zhu was attending a STEM conference in Hong Kong to recruit students to Dordt.  After networking at the event, Zhu sat down at his routine visa interview, expecting things to proceed as normal.

But the government had other plans for Zhu.

The government delayed his visa by over four weeks, leaving Zhu trapped back home until the  government approved his return. Even Representative Randy Feenstra, an assistant professor at Dordt, made contact with a Chinese ambassador in an attempt to get Zhu back on time–to no avail.

“It was totally out of my control,” said Zhu. “I understand the process and why it took so long, it’s a routine process…but it still took them over eight weeks.”

The delays facing international professors not only make things more difficult for the teachers themselves but also for the communities and institutions here at Dordt. Earnshaw was supposed to be teaching a multitude of courses, from a CORE 399 group to a section of Biblical Foundations, all of which had to be taken over by other professors. Zhu also had to pass off his classes to other professors, possibly throwing off students’ four year plans in the process, due to no fault of his own.

The provost, which is the branch of Dordt’s administration that handles the hiring and other issues with employees, also takes a huge blow when professors are delayed. When international delays occur, the provost immediately starts working with embassies and even ambassadors of other countries to try and get the professors back to Dordt. They’ll even go as far to hire an immigration lawyer, as they did in Earnshaw’s case.

No one knows when Earnshaw be able to make her return and set the campus culture right again- not Earnshaw, not the provost, and certainly not the Australian government.

“The earliest would be the end of September, but I thought I would be back for the end of July, so take that with a grain of salt,” Earnshaw said.

Faculty and students are hoping and praying for Earnshaw’s swift return.

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