Demystifying US F-1 Visa Rules and plausible implications on Indian Students: No more Free Land
University students grapple with uncertainty following the ICE deportation orders. The recent decision of Trump’s administration comes as a setback for Indian students studying in the US. This decision pertains to the F-1 visa which allows students to stay and pursue their studies in the US. In its cataclysmic decision, the ICE realized new rules, prohibiting the stay of international students enrolled in online classes for the fall semester. Now this will not only prove to be detrimental to the Indian students, if implemented but will also affect the livelihood of all those students pursuing higher studies and catering to their family’s needs. With a month left in their hand to figure out the plausible solutions, Indian students and their families are at the brink being discarded into an elephant’s graveyard.
WHAT ARE F-1 AND IT’S RULE?
F-1 visa or the student visa is primarily designed for the student to enter and pursue their studies in the US. This is valid for five years but this alone does not guarantee one’s stay in the US, it is premised on one’s status as a student. Eligibility criteria include one must apply for Student and Exchange Visitor Programme in the United States, must attend the classes and if they intend to, work during the recess and full time on weekends, and duly return to their country once they’ve completed with their study[i].
Earlier the rule permitted the students to carry out with their studies irrespective of the methodology adopted by the Universities. But the new rules[ii] stipulate that the international student must enroll in a course which offers “in-person” program or “hybrid” program, i.e. both remote and in-person, failing to comply with the new rules will attract deportation or in worst cases, even putting a barring their entry to the US.
ORDEALS AND CHALLENGES
The new rule released by ICE is quite intimidating; it sets to jeopardize the career and livelihood of international students of whom, 2,00,000 are Indians[iii]. Now if the rules are implemented, then this will damage the US economy which is estimated to have generated around 41 billion dollars in 2019, also a huge loss to the institution as this will defeat their objective to promote diversity and allowing them to incorporate their perspective to enrich the learning environment. If we analyze there will be two different situations to go about with this, firstly challenges for future applicants of an F-1 visa, and secondly the challenges for present F-1 visa holders in the US.
1. The future F-1 visa holder
For the people who will be applying for an F-1 visa in the next year for the fall semester, they can opt for universities that offer a hybrid program; else if their course is completely online then they are not required to apply [iv].
2. The F-1 visa holders
They are left with limited options. For instance, they can transfer to other colleges that offer hybrid methodology but this has to be done before the commencement of the fall semester. It is to be noted that many universities have already completed the admission process for the fall semester, and finding college at this juncture is a difficult task.
Now that being said, the other challenges include the exorbitant price of the tickets and no information concerning mitigating the additional charges. Though the Indian Government starts with its Vande Bharat mission wherein flights resumed under this mission, but the ticket cost around Rupees 1, 00,000. This option might be available to Indian students but for other students like those from Venezuela, they don’t have that option to fly back home on account of the unavailability of flights. There will be a problem with a decent internet connection, the difference in time-zone and access to Google tools, and other relevant study material for instance, in China[v].
There is no clarity on how the college will operate, or will the timeline for the degree completion extend, what if the situation does not ameliorate post-fall semester, etc. It also affects the livelihood of PhDs scholars and graduates who have their families to keep and attend to. They get a stipend for their research work while staying on campus, but there is clarity if they will be paid once, they are halfway around the world[vi]. It’s more like death v. deportation issue, forcing the universities to resort to in-person or hybrid methodology comes at the risk of the lives of students as well as professors, given that the US is the worst-hit country. This is considered to be a political issue and many democrats have criticized Trump’s decision. The President of the University of Washington Ana Mari Cauce addressed the action as, taking away the flexibility is cruel and completely oblivious, and laid that this leads to racial discrimination against the students[vii].
THE PLAUSIBLE SOLUTION IN TIMES OF CRISES
The future is not bleak, since a lot of schools, for instance, UC Berkeley, Georgia Tech, etc. are trying to accommodate the international students by offering the hybrid program, many students have moved the petition, asking the court to prevent the implementation of the new rules by ICE and DHS[viii]. Even recently, Harvard and MIT sue filed a plaint against the government over this directive. It’s unlawful to urge the students to leave the country since they have maintained their student status and it is opined by the federal court that the challenge of the students is likely to succeed.
But since they have just a week or two left, they can request for a change in the status to B Visa or visitor visa on a humanitarian basis. This will enable them to stay for months and in the meantime, they can figure out possible alternate options or consult an attorney. The other option is to consult with their university or DSO if their degree will count if they opt for online methodology and if it’s in affirmative then they can fly back home. This will provide them with clarity and a chance for early withdrawal and change of course if its’ the other way round. There is provision for reinstatement of status if students fall out of status, so they can plea for that. Also, if they have plans to marry a US citizen, they can do so now for this will guarantee their stay[ix].
The new rule does no good America’s safety and security but only harms the economy. If the rules are implemented, then a countless number of talented and potentially beneficial future workforce members of the society will be at the brink of the cliff. An international student faces an insane amount of restriction while applying for a visa and then a new hurdle only deteriorate the situation. All they want is to pursue their education just like the other inhabitants of the country and this should not come at the cost of their lives since corona does not discriminate and in-person methodology will only jeopardize the health of students and faculty.
[i] Travel.state.gov. 2020. Student Visa. [online] Available at: <https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/study/student-visa.html>
[ii] The Economic Times. 2020. View: How Does US Travel Ban Impact H-1B, L-1, F-1, EB-2, EB-3 And Related Visa Holders?. [online] Available at: <https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/nri/visa-and-immigration/view-how-does-the-us-travel-ban-impact-h-1b-l-1-f-1-eb-2-eb-3-and-related-visa-holders/articleshow/76874447.cms [iii] Raj, Y., 2020. ICE Guideline Forces Students Enrolled In Colleges Holding Online Classes Out Of US. [online] Hindustan Times. Available at: <https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/panic-among-indian-students-due-to-new-ice-guideline/story-OGnJrhSTGPjX5xDD5eNhwK.html> [iv] Forced to Leave US Because of This Rule? Update from MIT, Harvard, UCs. 2020. [DVD] Directed by H. Singh. USA.
[v] Quint, T., 2020. FAQ: What Should I Know If I’M An Indian Student In US Right Now?. [online] The Quint. Available at: <https://www.thequint.com/news/education/f1-foreign-student-visa-restriction-to-us-all-you-need-to-know>
[vi] Gray, H., 2020. Youtube. [online] Youtube.com. Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ufy54XAZkGo>
[vii] Kably, L., 2020. H1B Visa News: A Longer Wait For H-1B Aspirants, But US-Based OPT Students Can Change Status To Work Visas | International Business News - Times Of India. [online] The Times of India. Available at: <https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/international-business/trumps-new-ban-a-longer-wait-for-h-1b-aspirants-but-us-based-opt-students-can-change-status-to-work-visas/articleshow/76523632.cms>
[viii] Ana Marie Cauce, Ending flexibility for international students is cruel and oblivious to the reality of the pandemic, Available at: < https://www.washington.edu/president/2020/07/07/rule-ends-visa-waiver/>
[ix] Jordan, M., Kanno-Youngs, Z. and Levin, D., 2020. Trump Visa Rules Seen As Way To Pressure Colleges On Reopening. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/07/us/student-visas-coronavirus.html>
ABOUT THE AUTHOR This blog has been authored by Harshita Sonkar & Ashish Mittal, both 3rd Year B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) students at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow & Chanakya National Law University, Patna respectively.
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