Andhra Pradesh

American dream shattered

The coronavirus pandemic has hit the economies of all nations badly. In a move to protect jobs of U.S. citizens, President Donald Trump temporarily suspended non-immigrant visas like H1B, L1, H2A and J-1 that allow foreigners to work in the country. There is a record level of unemployment in the United States currently, and in signing the executive order, President Trump argued that it was an action taken to prevent employers from undercutting native-born workers.

The latest directive of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that prevents students from attending online classes puts students who are currently in the United States on their F-1, M-1 and J-1 visas for higher studies in a precarious situation. They will be deported from the country in 10 days if their universities do not switch to a hybrid model (a combination of online and in-person classes) or transfer, mid-semester, to an institution that offers hybrid classes. Additionally, forcing students to attend in-person classes poses a great health risk to them, as well as the faculty and other university staff during the pandemic. Health insurance is not very robust in the United States and in case of ill-health, treatment could cost them a bomb.

Aspirants affected

Those aspiring to enrol for the Fall 2020 semester will not be issued visas as per the ICE directive. Kruttika, a potential MFA student starting her studies in the U.S. this fall, says, "There is also a lot of uncertainty about how many classes incoming students can take online in order to meet credit requirements. The new ICE directive currently allows for only one class (3 credits) to be online. With travel restrictions in place, and no international flights operating between the two countries, educational institutions have a lot to clarify and plan for."

Universities, on the other hand, have been losing economically during the pandemic and if international students do not attend classes on campus there will be a further economic loss. Some universities like MIT and Harvard are working to sue President Trump and force ICE to withdraw this directive.

The students who are pursuing their master’s or conducting research in the U.S. currently are voicing their concerns and updating others on the situation, on Twitter. Some of them have voiced concerns about endangering the health of their families in India if they’re forced to move back.

STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students can take up the Optional Practical Training (OPT) programme and apply for an H1B visa if they are currently in the U.S.

J1 visa holders go to the U.S. on U.S. Department of State approved exchange programmes, but the U.S. government has restricted entry of non-immigrants on the J1 visa category and imposed the suspension on personnel like interns, teachers, camp counsellors and work travellers, says Global Tree founder and MD Srikar Alapati.

Telugus among worst-hit

The Indians working in the IT and technology service companies are the worst hit. About 70% of them get work permits from U.S.-based technology giants. Among them, those from the two Telugu States form the largest chunk of the immigrant population. According to the Migration Policy Institute, this move by the Trump government will block 2,19,000 people into the U.S., including 61,000 H1B and L1 visa holders and it includes their dependants on the H4 and L2 visa categories.

However, an estimated 6 lakh workers who are already in the U.S. will not be affected. Only 20% of them are employed by the Indian service companies. H1B visa holders, who are currently not in the U.S., can still re-enter and this visa rule also will not impact people who are in the U.S. waiting for their visas to be renewed.

UK beckons

On the other hand, the United Kingdom government has kept its doors open for international students even from India. The number of Indian students going to the UK for the academic year beginning September 2019 was 30,550 and the statistics showed there was an increase of 11,820 from the previous year. Visa Facilitation Services (VFS) centres opened on July 6 and several universities from England and Scotland are in touch with the Ministry of External Affairs & the respective Indian high commissions to facilitate chartered flights from different parts of India if in case the DGCA does not open international flights soon as they are keen to have students on campus from this September/October.

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Printable version | Oct 22, 2020 11:57:51 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/american-dream-shattered/article32060055.ece

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