Niri Karina: ‘Amherst, it’s time to live up to the type of people you say you are’

Thursday, October 03, 2019

As a former resident of North Village, the recent article about UMass moving ahead on $200 million project to replace two apartment complexes left me disappointed, upset and angry, but more importantly, worried.

UMass spokesman Ed Blaguszewski’s comments were dismissive of the extra challenges that international graduate students in Amherst face in finding affordable housing. Families like mine have many constraints that impede their ability to afford housing.

For example, F-2 visa holders (spouses and children of F-1 nonimmigrant student visa holders) are not allowed to work under any condition, meaning that only once source of income is available to the family, regardless of how many people are part of the household. The F-1 student visa holder, meanwhile, is only permitted to work 20 hours a week, on campus when school is in session. The option of taking a second job to supplement their income is not available to them. Working illegally while on an F-1 visa could result in deportation.

A two-bedroom unit in Amherst costs more than $1,000 per month, without utilities. International students are not eligible for federal or state-subsidized programs like food stamps, Medicare or Section 8 housing vouchers. Most international students are unable to afford their living expenses, let alone pay market rate for housing.

This I know, not just from my own personal experience as the spouse of an F-1 visa holder, but from my time at the Amherst Survival Center’s food pantry, which helps feed many international graduate student families.

So I ask UMass leaders and the Amherst community, how does giving nine months notice help families like mine or change anything for them? Why does the community not seem to care? How is UMass going to support the new families of international students coming in future months and years?

Of course, it’s not only international students that are affected, but students’ families in general. Please, if you see the wrong in this, raise your voice and let UMass know they need to do right by these students and their families.

Amherst, it’s time to live up to the type of people you say you are.

 Niri Karina