Open scholarship winner Chantal Newallo should be celebrating success, having completed her Bachelor of Science degree with Honours in Geological Sciences at the University of Miami.
However, with T&T’s borders closed, like many other students, she cannot return home, and her request for an exemption remains unanswered.
While the government’s advice for citizens stranded abroad is to “shelter in place”, the 23-year-old student who minored in Mathematics and Psychology faces dire circumstances.
For one, the lease on her apartment expired, and she had to make way for incoming students. Funding from the Ministry of Education’s Scholarship and Advanced Training Division (SATD) ended simultaneously with her programme.
According to her contract, the Ministry is to pay her airfare at the beginning and ending of the scholarship and provide monthly funding.
Newallo’s money is running out and with COVID-19 sending thousands on the job hunt, she is finding it hard to get work in Florida.
On Monday, the US government announced that it would introduce new restrictions on work visas.
“I was trying to return home in the first week of June because the lease for my apartment ended at the end of May. I wanted to move back when all of this was done. This was before the COVID-19 situation.
“I knew that when the borders closed, I probably would not be able to get home right away. But I did not expect them to be closed this long. There was a small window for me to return in March when the government announced the closure of the borders. The reason I could not leave Miami then was because I had my senior thesis to complete and I had to be on campus to collect the data,” Newallo said.
Florida has over 103,000 cases of COVID-19.
“It is stressful, especially with Florida’s cases going through the roof. It is necessary now more than ever to get nationals out of here. They are saying that Florida is a new hub for the virus. It is so bad that I do not leave my friend’s apartment.”
Newallo explained that on June 3, she submitted an application for an exemption to the Ministry of National Security and got a response saying that she would get an answer in a week. Despite a follow-up email, three weeks passed and there was no response. She contacted the SATD which informed her that it had no jurisdiction over the repatriation of students and advised her to speak to the Consulate General in Miami.
Personnel at the Consulate advised her to apply for an extension of her student visa. She has already paid US$450 to apply for the extension with no guarantee that it will be approved.
Besides scholarship winners, she said there were other students in the US trying to get home, enough to fill a Caribbean Airlines (CAL) plane.
Her mother Cheryl Leacock-Newallo said while a CAL trip to the US would be ideal, financial assistance to the students would help if this cannot be done.
“If they have to stay, they can’t stay comfortable because they can only rent up to a certain time. My daughter is fortunate in that she has accommodation by a friend. She has whatever remaining money, and no one knows how long she will have to stay there,” Newallo-Leacock said.
Contacted for comment, Minister of State in the Ministry of Education Dr Lovell Francis said he would look into the situation of scholarship students and give a response tomorrow.