On July 27, 2020, Wartburg College announced that all full-time students would have the opportunity to come back to Wartburg for a tuition-free fifth year due to the 2020-2021 school year being negatively affected by COVID-19. 

The exception: international students. Due to visa issues, the fifth year does not apply. 

“When the decision was made,” said Director of International Student Services Zafrul Amin, “it was intended for all students. Nobody was excluded from the plan. Once the announcement was made, the administration realized that international students do not qualify because of the visa issue.”  

Amin has worked in his role for about five years. His roles include working with all international students and acting as their spokesperson, support person, and secondary advisor. Amin said despite the college leaders’ best efforts there is no way to circumvent the visa issue when it comes to international students and the fifth year.  

“All international students come here for four years because that’s what it takes for them to graduate,” said Amin. “There is no way they can extend their visas for the fifth year. Even though the tuition was free for the fifth year, it is not a federal requirement.”  

The response from some international students has been disappointment with some backlash toward the administration.  

“I think [international students] are disappointed because some of them think this is intentional exclusion,” said Amin. “Students were very dissatisfied, when this decision was made, that they would not qualify.”  

Later, the college responded. On Oct. 13, 2020, the administration announced an alternative in the form of allowing international students to take summer courses tuition-free.   

“We realized that this is not the fault of the international students, that they could not qualify. To make sure that there was some kind of reciprocity to the international students, that was decided by the Student Senate and the administration.”  

There were five international students involved in the Student Senate out of over 50 participants last year. The decision affected over 90 international students. Wartburg had a total enrollment of 1,556 in the 2020-21 school year. 

The summer program saw some success, bringing in many more international students than had enrolled for summer classes in previous years.  

“Last summer, we had 49 international students enroll in the summer program where they did not have to pay for the tuition,” said Amin. “The year before, 2019-2020, only 17 students took the summer program. The number almost tripled.”  

Ultimately, the response to this program has not been entirely positive, with some students saying that it was not adequate compensation for losing the ability to take an extra year tuition-free.   

“We were still charged with the summer school fee,” second-year computer information systems major Rizmi Waheed said.  

The summer school fee is different than the tuition and is not covered by the free fifth year option. 

 U.S citizen students can receive up to 10 free class credits with the tuition-free fifth year. Comparably, international students could get up to only two free classes, excluding the seniors who were also not eligible for this option due to F-1 related issues.  

“Maybe we could get at least two summers since it would be equal to a semester and you could get a lot done in two summers,” second-year accounting and business administration major Peace Iteriteka said.   

“It is really limited in terms of courses offered over the summer,” fourth-year business administration and economics student Stanzin Norzang said.  

In the end, though, said, there was no way to circumvent the visa issues. 

“It is unfortunate that they could not qualify for the fifth year,” said Amin, “but this is the compromise that we came to agree upon.”  

For more information contact Amin at   


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