USF launches fundraiser for international students stranded in Tampa by COVID-19

There are about 5,000 international students who study at the University of South Florida. When classes moved online in March, those students scrambled to get home as flights were canceled and governments closed their borders to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The financial fallout from the pandemic is now creating more uncertainty about how many of those students will be able to continue their education.

“For most international students it has always been a dream to study abroad and some of them it’s been a dream to study here in the U.S., so we’re just very grateful to have this opportunity to come here,” said Isabella Marques who came to Tampa from Brazil to study at USF.

About 75% of international students enrolled at USF are still in the United States. But many face difficult decisions about their futures.

“My entire family hasn’t had any means of making an income and I’m by myself here,” one student said.

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The university recently launched a plan to help the co-eds. The USF World International Student Fund provides financial support for students stranded by the novel coronavirus who have few options for making money, increased expenses, and are thousands of miles from loved ones.

“Our currency right now is very devalued, and so the dollar for us is a lot more expensive than it was two months ago, like a lot more expensive,” explained Marques.

International students can only work limited hours at on-campus jobs. They also are not eligible for any financial aid or federal help like the CARES Act.

“We have a great need,” said Kiki Caruson, interim vice president of USF World. “Every bit of the fund will go to help a student who has experienced a financial difficulty due to COVID-19.”

The issue is not unique to USF. The American Council on Education estimates enrollment for international students could be down by 25% in the coming academic year. NAFSA: Association of International Educators projects that would mean billions in losses for U.S. colleges and an even greater hit to our economy.

“We need engineers, we need computer scientists, we need public healthcare workers, and so their education translates into a benefit for us here at home and in America,” Caruson said.

It also means a lot to students like Isabella to finish out their USF careers.

“I just feel super welcomed at USF and by the whole community, you know, by supporting us to stay here and fulfill our dreams,” she said.

USF World launched the fundraising effort about two weeks ago. To donate to the fund, visit