International students are facing a difficult financial situation with the looming shutdown of the University of New Mexico’s Student Family Housing (SFH) in May 2021.
According to international student and SFH resident Sherry Shafique, students within the complex were informed through a newsletter in June that UNM couldn’t afford the repairs that SFH needed.
A majority of the tenants at SFH are graduate and international students, according to Shafique.
International students face unique circumstances with the oft-maligned complex being shut down, forcing them to find another suitable place to live with their families. Most of these issues revolve around financial hardships and having to abide by different laws than students who are from the United States, such as language barriers and academic or visa requirements.
“For us, it is a lot harder to get another place because of being international,” Isabel Meza, another international student living at SFH, said. “We have more limitations, we don’t have much resources, we don’t know the system and we don’t know the language sometimes.”
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, international students with an F-1 visa are unable to get a job off campus for the first academic year and continue to have job limitations after that year.
The issue of isolation also comes up, since these students are away from their families in their home countries and cannot move in with them or ask for immediate help.
Meza and Shafique both said when searching for a new place to live in the United States, many landlords ask for the salary of the potential renter as well as a deposit, putting international students at a disadvantage due to the financial hardships they face.
Meza and Shafique agreed that they have had a hard time in the past with finding a new place to live that would fit their budget and their needs. Meza said the lowest price for a suitable apartment costs $100 more than what she is now paying for rent.
“Everywhere (I’ve looked) you have to show how much you earn, and since we’re (international) students, we’re limited by the immigration laws,” Shafique said. “We’re not allowed to work outside (the campus) — we can only be on either scholarship or on an assistantship. An assistantship doesn’t pay much.”
According to Shafique, another unique issue that these international students face is culture shock. Without living at SFH, they will not be around other international students.
Culture shock, a feeling an individual has when they are suddenly thrown into a new way of living, is a common experience the international students at Student Family Housing face, according to Shafique. He said living around people experiencing the same situation was a positive experience he couldn’t get elsewhere.
“We have people around who respect different cultures, different religions, different setups,” Shafique said. “It was really advantageous. Most of the students are international, so they know that people are coming from different cultures, which may not be the case if you’re living outside (the complex).”
Meza said many residents have had constant maintenance issues at SFH, citing an entire building in her apartment quad being out of commission for at least a year, creating a feeling of neglect in the tenant community.
Shafique said there are also residents that still struggle with internet service, after SFH terminated its provided internet service in July. Having internet access has proved essential this year as the University has moved almost completely online due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The residents complained en masse to facilities administrators, and SFH attempted to fix some of the issues.
“They brought in new modems and tried to revamp the system, but they weren’t successful,” Shafique said. “Then the other complaints started coming in that there were issues with the buildings because they were too old, they weren’t properly maintained and they didn’t have a maintenance schedule.”
The Student Resident Association at SFH sent an email to UNM President Garnett Stokes and Vice President of Finance and Administration Teresa Costantinidis on Aug. 21 with a list of struggles that tenants are facing, including rental deposits, limited income, affordable housing and more. The association also provided suggestions on how to help tenants move out, such as financial negotiations or marked down rent.
“Most of us are not familiar with the leases and everything. There are a lot of complications and a lot of things which are written in the fine print which can harm the international students because of the law and order situation here,” Shafique said. “Anybody can sue you for anything.”
Meza, for her part, was hopeful that the administration would do more before the last residents are forced to leave and the complex is decommissioned.
“I really hope they can still give us at least some opportunities so we can find a place to live, especially because we are a part of the University — a huge part,” Meza said. “We need a good and not that expensive, safe place to live. I think we are a special part of the University, and I really hope the University can help us more under these circumstances.”
Hannah John is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @yesitshannahj