President Donald Trump’s order directing foreign students to leave the US if they are not attending in-person classes will affect thousands of Indians, according to immigration experts, who said the controversial move could trigger a spate of legal challenges.
In a statement on Monday, US Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) said students with non-immigrant visas cannot take a full online course load while remaining in the country. ICE has warned that students who don’t comply with the rule could be removed.
Numbering over 200,000, Indians constitute the second-largest foreign student community on US campuses after the Chinese, according to the Institute of International Education (IIE), a US government-funded body. Immigration lawyers, while questioning the motive behind forcing students to attend in-person classes amid a raging pandemic, said it could lead to the US Citizenship & Immigration Services being slapped with fresh lawsuits.
“If taken to court, US government will have a tough time explaining itself. I think a number of varsities will file lawsuits, especially smaller ones,” said Rajiv Khanna, managing attorney of Immigration.com.
US to not issue fresh visas
The US will also not issue fresh visas to students whose colleges have announced online-only courses from later this year. The administration has asked schools that offer online-only classes or those planning not to reopen for the fall 2020 semester to update their status by July 15.
The new rule will, however, not affect students who are on the Optional Practical Training (OPT) programme, which allows graduates in science, technology, engineering and math to work for an additional 24 months in the US.
Also unaffected are those who work in research labs.
In a study conducted in May, the IIE found that except for three of the 599 institutions in the US that collectively house half the total number of foreign students, most had shifted to teaching students virtually since the Covid-19 outbreak. These institutes are unlikely to offer inperson classes this year, the study reported. It also found that 15% of Indian students were unable to travel to the US in the spring of 2020.
Legal experts reckon the Trump administration’s move could lead to a fall in revenue for US universities this year.
Foreigners constitute around 5.5% of students enrolling in US colleges, and they contributed over $41 billion to the US in FY19, lawmakers told the US administration in June.
“I think there will definitely be a dip in demand for US student visas this year… Universities will face a fall in revenue if a large number of Indian students stay away,” said Poorvi Chothani, managing partner of LawQuest, an immigration firm with offices in Mumbai and Florida.
“We anticipate that universities will quickly offer ‘hybrid’ courses to lure foreign students and may also reduce tuition fees for some of those,” she said.
Typically, universities rely on tuition fee and donations to dole out scholarships, fee waivers, subsidies, living expenses or other incentives to retain or attract stellar students. The tuition fees are often collected from foreign students.
Prominent universities such as Harvard are among several institutions that have shifted to an online teaching model, until a vaccine is found for Covid-19. This has resulted in students across the country enrolling for these courses.
Overseas students currently studying in the US have launched online campaigns denouncing the move.
An Indian student at Georgetown University, Washington DC, told ET: “The new policy assumes that students have the ability to travel to their home countries or the financial ability to take a leave of absence.”
Another student, who has deferred his application at Emory University, Atlanta, by a year, said the latest move adds to the uncertainty already faced by prospective students regarding visa norms.
“The anti-immigration sentiment is clearly very high in the US. The UK, Canada and Australia have issued clear and specific communication on student visas while there is no transparency in the US,” the student said.