Better sense prevails

Withdrawal of visa order shows that a sustained pushback will force govts to give up anti-people measures

AuthorPublished: 17th Jul 2020  12:00 amUpdated: 16th Jul 2020  6:38 pm

The revocation of a controversial visa order that sought to deport international students from the United States has a lesson for all impulsive leaders in the world. The withdrawal of this patently absurd order shows that a sustained pushback will force governments to see reason and give up anti-people measures. There was widespread opposition to the move and pressure from colleges and major businesses and firms. The July 6 order had sought to bar international college students from staying in the country if their courses have moved online because of the coronavirus pandemic. The rare reversal of the policy decision by the Trump administration was possible following a lawsuit filed by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in a federal court at Boston. Besides, around 17 US States had filed a lawsuit against the administration, arguing that the order was cruel and illegal and would harm students immensely. A group of 30 American Senators and 136 Congressmen had also urged the President to revoke the order. The pressure to withdraw the decision intensified after over 200 colleges and global technology giants like Google, Facebook and Microsoft joined the issue and backed the lawsuit. If implemented, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s order could have forced tens of thousands of foreign students, a major chunk of them from India and China, to leave the country if their universities switched to online classes. The rules applied to holders of F-1 and M-1 visas, which are for academic and vocational students.

Foreign students are a key source of revenue for many of the American universities as they often pay full tuition. Each year, about 10 lakh international students, including about two lakh Indians, enroll in American universities. They contribute $41 billion to the economy annually and support more than 4.58 lakh jobs. The American immigration authorities had failed to provide any plausible explanation for the decision on cancellation of student visas. Clearly, it was part of the tactic to force universities to open their campuses for the fall season, a cause aggressively advocated by Trump whose anti-immigrant policies have created an atmosphere of hostility. The coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent changes to university instructions are circumstances beyond the control of students. To respond by ordering international students to leave the country is hostile, counterproductive and indicative of a general attitude of aggression towards non-citizens. The controversial policy had thrown the higher education circles into turmoil at a time when universities are grappling with whether to reopen campuses during the pandemic. The loss of international students could have cost universities millions of dollars in tuition and jeopardised the ability of American companies to hire skilled workers.

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