CASH & CONFUSION: Ja’can students left baffled by US COVID-19 stimulus money

Students who previously participated in work-and-study-based exchange programs in the US are reporting that they have received monies in their accounts, believed to be a part of the federal government’s stimulus package.

The US Internal Revenue Service on April 15 began to distribute stimulus cheques of up to $1,200 to millions of Americans, as the Trump administration tries to keep the economy rolling amid the devastation from the coronavirus pandemic.

One recipient of the funds, who was in 2018 granted a J1 Student Visa to participate in a work-and-study programme in North Carolina, revealed that he had received over US $1,000 in his local account on April 16.

“I woke up to a text message from a friend. She seh I must check to see if I qualify for the stimulus,” recalled the student, who spoke to BUZZ under the condition of anonymity. I later received a second text, from another friend, that said check your account now!” added the student.

‘When I first got it I was really glad, I was saying it could go towards my school tuition.’

Initially, the Maritime University student said he was delighted to have received the funds, but later felt scared and confused after learning that the money was not intended for J1 student visa holders. When I first got it I was really glad, I was saying it could go towards my school tuition,” he added.

However, later he heard several conflicting reports from friends that the monies received by the cohort may not be a grant but instead a loan. The student revealed that he was also told that the monies would be taken from the students once they return to the US and file their taxes. While others suggest that the monies will be withdrawn from the students’ accounts shortly as it was a mistake.

The Kingston and St Andrew native further told BUZZ that he intends to leave the money in the account until he can contact officials in the US, namely the IRS. When asked if officials at the university which he attends could potentially assist him and his colleagues, he noted that the universities are not directly involved in the process except for the verification of credentials. “All the university does is send your transcript. To get into one of these programmes you’ve got to go through an agency,” he said.

While it is unclear if this year’s work abroad programme will be going forward due to worldwide travel restrictions as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the student noted that he would not be participating. The student said that while he was able to grow his network in North Carolina and gained plenty of experience, the reality of racism makes him hesitant to participate again.

Yearly, thousands of Jamaican students participate in the J-1 visa Summer Work Travel programme in the United States.