- Indian students umbrella group hails the decision, and hopes no new directive is issued for incoming students.
International students at university campuses across the country are heaving a sigh of relief as the Trump administration has rescinded the controversial rule barring them from attending a fully-online semester this fall. According to the July 6 directive from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), students on F-1 visas could not attend schools which are operating entirely online for their fall semester. With this announcement, the ICE resumes the exception it made during spring and summer semesters when the universities and academic institutions were entirely operating in an online mode, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It also gives students who have gone back home, the flexibility to stay in their home countries and continue with their fall semester online.
The rule reversal in rule comes after 59 diverse public and private colleges and universities from 24 states and the District of Columbia sued the Department of Homeland and Security (DHS) for the visa restrictions on international students. The lawsuit argued that the policy would put students’ safety at risk and hurt schools financially. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, international students contributed $45 billion to the U.S. economy in 2018.
Universities were not alone in this fight. Many of the large multinational corporations like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, among others, who provide student internships, externships, OPT opportunities and full-time employment were also taking action against ICE’s e policy. Led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 18 corporations, trade associations and lobbying groups filed their own amicus brief against DHS and ICE seeking a temporary restraining order against the action.
“Rescinding of the student ban placed by the Trump administration is not only heartwarming, but just a sense of relief for a million plus international students who for the past week or so were just absolutely confused, lost and not understanding what exactly happened to them,” Sudhanshu Kaushik, who heads the North American Association of Indian Students (NAAIS), told this writer.
However, he warned that the Trump administration could come up with new rules, new directives that will target students who have yet to come to the U.S. for the fall semester. “So we have to be cautious and vigilant, but also celebrate the sense of relief that we now have people who are legally allowed to stay in their home countries, with their families, and be safe, and take online classes,” he said, adding that those who chose to stay back don’t have to have the fear of being deported.
Several students this writer spoke to after the July 6 announcement said that while they were learning to navigate through the pandemic, they are now faced with this uncertainty and confusion.
In an earlier interview, Kaushik told this writer that after the July 6 announcement, he got thousands of calls and messages in less than 24 hours from students and their families who are overwhelmed with what’s going on in the country right now. NAAIS estimates that there are currently 75,000 students who are still in the U.S.
Currently there are more than 260,000 Indian students enrolled in U.S. universities. According to the 2019 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange (IEE), international students make up 5.5 percent of the total U.S. higher education population. IEE data reveals that in 2018-2019, over a million international students were in the U.S, with 202,014 or 20 percent estimated to be from India. According to the Migration Policy Institute, a think tank based in Washington, D.C. about 1.2 million students who fall under the affected visas were enrolled and registered at more than 8,700 schools nationwide as of March 2018.
Bhargavi immigrated to the U.S. in 1997 and has worked with Indian American media since then in various capacities. She has a degree in English literature and French. Through an opportunity from Alliance Francaise de New York, Bhargavi taught French at Baruch college for over a year. After taking a break and two kids later, she went back to work in the Desi media. An adventure sport enthusiast, in her free time, she likes to cook, bake or go for hikes, biking and long walks.