US visa rule leaves many Asian students in panic

Normally, overseas students studying at American universities must be taking courses in-person to fulfill the requirements for a US visa, but this regulation was suspended starting March 2020 “for the duration of the emergency,” in light of so many schools quickly going virtual because of COVID-19. On July 6, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement¬† changed its guidance, instead saying that students must take classes in-person or lose their eligibility to remain in the United States.

After the US announced that international students were required to be enrolled in in-person courses or be sent to their home countries, many students were in a panic. Speaking on the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announcement that students would lose their student visas,¬†Ifat Gazia, a PhD student from Kashmir, said “this order is basically pushing students to chose between disease and deportation.”

This policy affects over a million foreign students, but the Chinese student population is the largest, and it faces significant restrictions on traveling home. According to ICE, nearly 80 percent of all international students in the US are from Asia, with the majority coming from China and India. The administration stood by the policy, without particular accommodations for students from Asian countries also navigating the crisis. “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 regularly?” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said during a press briefing.

There are nearly 370,000 Chinese students and and 194,000 Indian students in the U.S. “This unjust and discriminatory attack on international students cuts to the core of our mission of education and research,” Johns Hopkins University Provost Sunil Kumar said.

“If ICE sends me sends me and other Kasmiri students back, we would be left with no remote learning option. I will have to take a leave from my university and sit back home until this order is revoked,” said Gazia, referencing the Indian government-imposed internet blockade in Kashmir. In a similar way, many websites, including Google and Facebook that are used by US universities to communicate with students, are blocked in China.

According to an Institute of International Education report, in which they cited the US Department of Commerce, international students contributed $45 billion to the US economy in 2018. NAFSA has said that foreign students supported over 450,000 jobs in the US during the 2018-2019 academic year. John Hopkins joined the growing list of universities suing the Trump administration to block this rule on foreign students, led by Harvard and MIT.

On July 14, 2020, the government effectively conceded the point, reaching a settlement in the Harvard-MIT suit, and allowing students to remain in the US in these extraordinary times.

Author: Camryn Thomas