US says foreign students still welcome despite new rule

Photograph of a U.S. Department of Homeland Security .

‘Disappointed’ India seeks ‘flexibility’ to make it easier for 250,000 Indian students in the US.

A day after sending shock waves among a million foreign students, including over 250,000 from India, the US sought to give a positive spin to a new rule that would bar those attending only online courses.

International students are welcome in the US, the State Department said Tuesday referring to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency’s new rule that would force such students to leave or risk deportation and deny entry to new students in the fall semester.

“The United States has long been the destination of choice for international students, and we are pleased that many international students who had planned to study this fall in the United States may still have the opportunity to do so,” it said.

The State Department billed the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) rules as “temporary modifications to F-1 and M-1 nonimmigrant visa requirements for the fall 2020 semester” in response to the covid-19 crisis.

“This will allow a mixture of both in-person and some online coursework to meet the requirements for nonimmigrant student status,” it said giving a positive spin to the rule that has put American universities in a dilemma — to reopen or risk lucrative losing foreign students.

“This temporary accommodation provides greater flexibility for nonimmigrant students to continue their education in the United States, while also allowing for proper social distancing on open and operating campuses across America,” it said.

“International students will still have to obtain the appropriate visa and may still be subject to other visa processing or travel restrictions due to covid-19,” the State Department clarified.

“Students should check with the local US embassy or consulate for information specific to their country,” it said.

The State Department clarification came amid reports in the Indian media that the US had agreed to take a ‘relook’ at the issue after New Delhi expressed its ‘disappointment’ during India-US Foreign Office Consultations on Tuesday.

Indian foreign secretary Harsh Shringla ‘strongly’ raised the issue with his counterpart US undersecretary of State David Hale, during their virtual consultations, the Times of India reported.

Noting that the new rule would only aggravate the uncertainty students are already facing battling with covid, Shringla asked for “flexibility” in the US guidelines to make it easier for Indian students in the US.

“In their answer, the US side agreed to take a relook at the issue,” the newspaper said citing unnamed sources.

However, neither the State Department nor the Indian External Affairs Ministry made any reference to the foreign students issue in similar statements on the foreign office consultations.

“They discussed US-India cooperation on a full range of international issues and developed concrete steps to strengthen the US-India Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership established by their leaders,” the State Department said.

Meanwhile, US media too highlighted the dilemma of US educational institutions over the new rule on foreign students.

The latest rules are “leaving colleges in a bind: hold in-person classes—a proposition many have deemed too dangerous—or risk losing lucrative international students,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

The new policy “has prompted an outcry from educators and campus officials in Massachusetts, who slammed the move as “cruel” and likely to cause massive economic damage,” reported Boston Herald News

President Donald Trump himself is pushing for reopening elementary and secondary schools in the fall despite a rise in coronavirus infections nationwide in a bid to revive the economy.

“Our country has got to get back, and it’s got to get back as soon as possible. And I don’t consider our country coming back if the schools are closed,” he said at a White House event Tuesday.

Under the new Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) rules Nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the US.

Nonimmigrant F-1 students attending schools operating under normal in-person classes are bound by existing federal regulations. Eligible F students may take a maximum of one class or three credit hours online.

Nonimmigrant F-1 students attending schools adopting a hybrid model—that is, a mixture of online and in person classes—will be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online.

These exemptions do not apply to F-1 students in English language training programs or M-1 students pursing vocational degrees, who are not permitted to enroll in any online courses, SEVP said.


Foreign students face deportation if US schools go online (July 7, 2020)

Indian students asked to stay in touch with schools regarding OPT (June 18, 2020)

Canada leads the way in attracting and assimilating international students (May 13, 2020)

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