US to eject foreign students if classes go online; Indians’ fate in limbo

Amiti Sen/Garima Singh New Delhi | Updated on July 08, 2020

Dreams soured A file photo of a US Universities fair in Hyderabad   -  G Ramakrishna

Applies to those with F1, M1 visas; switching to schools offering ‘ín person’ classes complex, expensive

Thousands of Indian students may be affected by the decision of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement to ask foreign scholars to leave the country if their colleges go online for the Fall semester.

The Government is likely to take up the concerns of Indian students with Washington, but the fate of the students affected by the decision depends more on how universities, which are set to lose revenue, deal with the matter.


According to experts, the alternatives offered, of switching to schools offering ‘in person’ classes or to the hybrid model, are complex and expensive. After China, India sends the most number of students to the US for higher education.

In a press release issued on Monday, ICe said that students holding non-immigrant F1 visas and M1 visas will not be allowed to take a full online course load in the Fall semester and remain in the US. Students currently enrolled in such programmes must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status, the release said.

“Asking foreign students to go back to their countries if they happen to take online classes for a semester is clearly not being fair to them. If this applies to those who have completed a part of their studies, it will be very disruptive. It could also affect their Compulsory Practical Training and Optional Practical Training,” said Arun Singh, who served as Indian Ambassador to the US in 2015-16.

‘Switching varsities difficult’

Also, experts point out that it may not be easy for foreign students to opt for a different school. “Switching schools is a complex decision. First, the student has to look for another school offering on-site classes for the subject he is studying. The student should also fit into the criteria set by the new school. The new institution may have steeper fees and a transfer fee may also be involved,” said Nandika Handa, an expert on immigration matters. US laws are strict about allowing students to take classes online and remain in the US on an F-1 visa and the decision taken by the ICE should come as no surprise because the government only granted temporary relaxation from the rule, in March, because of the Covid-19 emergency, said Rajkamal Rao, MD, Rao Advisors LLC, Texas.

“Only eight per cent of colleges (Harvard, California State) have decided to only offer courses online. International students at more than 80 per cent of colleges in the US will not be impacted by this rule,” Rao said. But some, like Handa, say that it is not yet clear how many international students will be affected as several US universities are yet to announce their plans for the Fall semester.

Even those universities that decide to offer their foreign students hybrid classes, a mixture of online and ‘in-person’ classes, it may not be easy to do so. “There is a possibility that for hybrid classes they will have to apply for new I-20s which again makes the matter complicated,” said Handa.

But universities have to find a way out if they want to retain students, she added.

Students shocked

“This sudden announcement is quite shocking. The US has always been the preferred choice for computer science students like me. In this pandemic like situation I don’t understand what was the need to come up with this decision. We are students and have not even entered the job market for the government to think that we are a threat to the Americans,” said Santanu Ghosh, a second-year computer science student in the University of Florida.

The good news is that the move will not affect new students wanting to go to the US.

“New students who are aspiring to go for Fall 20 will not be issued F1 visas if their course is completely online. It won’t matter to them as the consulates are anyway not open yet. Most students will be deferring their plans to Spring 21 term,” said Sumeet Jain, co-founder and higher education expert at Yocket, an online platform for students wanting to study abroad.

Meanwhile, in a late night development, the US conveyed to India that it will keep the best interests of Indians in mind and that detailed implementation guidelines are yet to be framed.

(With inputs from Vinay Kamath)

Published on July 07, 2020

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