Hyderabad: Several thousands of Indian students, particularly Telugus, studying in universities in the United States may be forced to return home if their classes go online due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
This is after the Trump administration decided not to allow foreign students stay in the country if their classes are online. The decision has taken many by surprise, because many US universities had decided to go online as a safety precaution during the pandemic.
“Non-immigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States,” the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (USICE) said on Monday.
These rules are not particular to foreign students currently in the US universities but also to foreign students who enrol for online programmes for the fall semester 2020. The US will not issue visas to such students and the US Customs and Border Protection will not permit them to enter the US.
“Active students currently in the US enrolled in such programmes (online) must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status. If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings,” the USICE said.
After banning Green Cards and suspending work visas like H-1B, the new rules, according to observers, are reportedly aimed at curbing the practice of Optional Practice Training (OPT). The OPT is a temporary employment authorisation given to a student visa holder to work in their major area of study. If a student moves out of the US and completes the course through online classes, such candidates may not be eligible for the OPT.
To continue in the US with lawful status, international students who have taken up online courses will now have to move to a school which has in-person instructions. According to the new rules, students under the F-1 programme are eligible for only one class or three credit hours online. Another option before the international students is to join a school offering a hybrid model of academics which is a blend of online and in-person instructions.
Under the hybrid model, students will be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online. However, the schools in which students are studying must certify to the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System through Form I-20 that the student is taking a minimum number of online classes required to make normal programmes in the degree programme.
“It is an unfortunate decision by the US government which will affect Indian students badly. We have to wait to see how US universities will react to the decision,” said Ajaya Kumar Vemulapati, director of overseas education consultancy IMFS.
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