Thousands of foreign students pursuing higher education in universities across the United States are staring at an uncertain future with the Trump administration coming up with another shocker, saying it would not allow them to remain in the country if all of their classes are moved online in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. Indian and Chinese students, who constitute a major chunk of the international student community, will have to bear the brunt if such a preposterous policy is implemented. This is clearly an attempt by Trump to pander to the extreme right-wing and anti-immigrant forces among his supporters ahead of the November presidential elections. The recent move to suspend the H-1B and L-1 visas, in the face of mounting job losses, must also be seen in this context. Immigrants have been soft targets for the maverick Republican whose campaign for re-election rests on fuelling xenophobia. As per the rule proposed by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, universities with a hybrid system of in-person and online classes will have to show that foreign students are taking as many in-person classes as possible, to maintain their F-1 visa status. Otherwise, the State Department will not issue visas to the students nor will the US Customs and Border Protection permit them to enter the country. There were more than one million international students in the US for the 2018-19 academic year, accounting for 5.5% of the total enrolments in higher education.
International students contributed $44.7 billion to the US economy in 2018. The latest restriction is a short-sighted and unethical move driven by political motivations to push a hate-filled narrative in an election year. It contributes to the growing sense of perceived protectionism by the Trump administration. By making immigration increasingly complicated even for its most highly skilled applicants, the United States risks permanently jeopardising its ability to attract the best and brightest from around the world. However, a strong pushback being mounted by the universities offers hope for the students. The legal teams at the universities, which are popular destinations for international students, are working to ensure that the immigration status of such students is protected. Some of the options being explored include adopting a hybrid model of online and in-person instruction for classes through the semester or enrolling international students in research-based courses that involve working on projects in university’s labs. Already, Indian students have been hit hard following the outbreak of the pandemic. Several companies have rescinded the on-campus job offers and internship assignments in the midst of deepening economic crisis. This has taken a heavy toll on the finances of students — a majority of them go for bank loans to pursue higher studies.
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