In a move that will adversely impact hundreds of thousands of Indian students, the US immigration authority on Monday announced that foreign students will be forced to leave the country or transfer to another college if their universities offer only online classes this fall semester due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This has left Tanesha Gauba worried for her future. Gauba is currently pursuing double Majors in English Literature and Psychology at the University of Illinois. “As of now, my university hasn’t said anything on the issue. We were already transitioning into a hybrid model so there are no talks of returning back,” she says.
However, the international student community in US is in a complete frenzy. Now these students will have to navigate not only the pandemic, but these new rules as well. “There is confusion amidst this already frustrating pandemic which has left us far away from homes. It also feels disrespectful because we contribute financially not only to the universities, but to local businesses too, especially in smaller towns. And it is not just about financial support, it is also being part of a vibrant, diverse community that learns and grows from each other. That growth is the reason why we pay such a premium for education abroad. All my friends and I hope for better, more accommodating rules in the future.”
Gauba has no plans of coming back to India as she says her parents had to spend a sizeable amount for the course. “I would rather not share the exact amount, but it was quite big. And yes, I did get some help from the university CARES fund. It was about a thousand dollars and helped me to pay rent for a couple of months,” she adds.
According to the new rules, international students must take at least some of their classes in person. New visas will not be issued to students of those colleges that have gone fully online and even for the hybrid model, international students will be barred from taking all of their classes online. This rule has created a lot of problems for all foreign students.
For Suhashini Taneja (name changed), getting admission at a US university was not a cakewalk. Sounding totally shattered by the new rule, she says, “I worked for about a year before getting into the course. There was GRE, there were couple of exams that I had to crack. I applied in two colleges and you need a good score and it is an extremely tedious process. I have been doing this since the whole of 2018 and I have risked jobs in India to go abroad”.
“When we plan to go abroad for education, it is a ten-year plan because we plan for the future. We also have to take a loan as none of us have the appetite for a foreign education based on what we earn today. We are essentially paying full cost of education while attending classes online. We are also compromising on time zones because if I am in India, I have to be up late at night to attend classes. So, it’s a bit ridiculous,” she adds.
Taneja says the students have not been given any direction from the university. “They said they are trying to find out more information and reassured us that they are on our side,” she says.
“My university has decided to do the hybrid model so, luckily, it is partially online and partially offline,” she adds.
Students feel that it is a very racist order because it says that you either sit in the classroom and die of COVID or you leave. There is also the differential treatment for US and international students, which students find ridiculous. “We feel scared, nervous and we are panicking. I feel that some of the Indians are far more resilient and they take it as it goes. But I think if someone is really anxious and if the pandemic was making them feel terrible, these are absolute grounds for us to completely fall apart,” Taneja says.
Money spent on Taneja’s course was about $53,000 per year, with some scholarship coming in from the university. The tuition fee is expected to go up to $56,000 for next year, apart from the accommodation and living expenses.
International students feel that this uncertainty is worse than dying due to Coronavirus.
Not just Indian students, according to a New York Times report, a student from Brazil has urged the Trump administration to reconsider a requirement that may strip many students of their visas. He pens down, “How brave does a person have to be to move to a new country alone, in pursuit of a college education? Imagine suddenly finding yourself in a place with another language and a completely different culture, and knowing you’re putting your family at great financial strain in the process.
To have such an opportunity is a blessing and a curse. It’s building a new life with the constant fear that a swift stroke of the government’s pen could end all your dreams. That’s what happened to many international students on Monday, when the Trump administration required that they attend at least one in-person class to keep their visas. Millions saw their hopes crumble as they’re now forced to leave America or forbidden from returning.”
For in-depth, objective and more importantly balanced journalism, Click here to subscribe to Outlook Magazine