Unexpected changes to foreign student visa rules by US administration has destroyed the ambitions of more than a million international students, primarily from China and India, that are presently enrolled in various US institutions.
The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Monday stated that it would block the visa of foreign students whose entire courses have moved online die to COVID-19, with experts calling the move “xenophobic” and part of Donald Trump’s harsh immigration policy.
The directive by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program is likely to impact hundreds of thousands of students, particularly from India, China and other Asian nations who would either have to leave the US or face eviction.
Universities in the US were forced to shift classes online in mid-March post the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. The United States is the hardest hit by the pandemic with more than three million confirmed cases.
Two top US universities – Harvard and MIT – recently filed a lawsuit seeking to revoke the order by the Trump administration. “We will pursue this case vigorously so that our international students – and international students at institutions across the country – can continue their studies without the threat of deportation,” Harvard’s president Lawrence S Bacow said in a statement.
“We believe that the ICE order is bad public policy, and we believe that it is illegal,” he added.
Some other leading universities, including Princeton, Stanford University, California Institute of Technology and Cornell have announced their support for the lawsuit by Harvard and MIT. Brown University issued a statement calling the new immigration order as “nothing short of cruel” and “a direct threat to public health”.
The US government justified the new orders. “You don’t get a visa for taking online classes from, let’s say, the University of Phoenix, so why would you if you were just taking online classes generally?” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said during a press briefing.
But critics have criticized Donald Trump’s new student visa rules. “The cruelty of this White House knows no bounds. Foreign students are being threatened with a choice: risk your life going to class in-person or get deported,” said Senator Bernie Sanders. “We must stand up to Trump’s bigotry. We must keep all our students safe.”
The restraint on students’ visa is being seen by critics as an attempt by the Trump administration to compel US institutions to resume classes and business. “This is to strong-arm universities and colleges to buy into that narrative which the Trump administration is trying to sell that everything is fine.”