In a big setback for Indian students, the United States on Monday, 6 July, said it would not allow foreign students to remain in the country if all of their classes are moved online in the fall season. This move – by the US Immigration and Custom Enforcement – will impact more than an estimated 200,000 Indian students pursuing higher education in the US.
What should you know if you are an Indian student in the US on an F-1 visa? What are your options? Here’s all your FAQs answered.
What is the F-1 visa?
The F-1 Visa (Academic Student) allows you to enter the US as a full-time student at an accredited college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution or in a language training programme.
On an F-1 visa, you are allowed to work on campus up to 20 hours per week during regular full-time quarters or semesters.
Who will be affected by the latest visa restriction by the US government?
Students holding F-1 visas or those who wish to apply for it to pursue higher education in the US will be the most impacted. There are two important things to note here:
- The US will not be issuing F-1 visas to students who are set to start a new semester in Fall 2020, which will be completely online.
- Those students who are already in the US and are pursuing their studies will have to leave the country if the programme is set to go completely online for the rest of the Fall semester.
Does this mean they have to suspend their course midway?
No, those who will have to leave the US can continue the course online from their home countries.
Is there no way Indian students can stay back in the US and complete their courses?
The only way F-1 visa holders can stay in the US and continue their studies is if their university starts offering hybrid method of teaching, ie, a combination of both online and in-person classes. This means that along with online classes, there should be offline classes in a physical classroom setting.
The student must get the university to certify to the ICE that the classes are indeed of a hybrid nature, and provide proof for the same. Only after the submission of necessary documents will the student be allowed to stay back and continue their studies.
My university does not offer hybrid classes but another one does. Can I transfer my course?
Yes, you have the option of transferring to another university that is offering a combination of on-campus and in-person classes, along with the ones online. However, this has to be done before the fall semester commences.
It is to be noted that many universities have already completed the admission process for the fall semester, and with rising number of coronavirus cases in the country, it is unlikely that US universities would opt for in-person classes before 2021.
What happens if students fail to transfer or return to their home countries?
- In this case, students will be deported back to their home countries.
- They may also face future bans on entry into the US.
Can students who return midway apply for a fresh F-1 visa ahead of the spring semester?
There is no clarification on this by the ICE yet. Watch this space for more details.
What about students who are scheduled to start their courses in September 2020? Can they defer their admission to the next semester?
Again, there is no clarity on this by the ICE yet.
I have returned to India due to the pandemic. I am already enrolled in a university that offers hybrid classes. But I am not able to return due to travel ban. What should I do?
In this case, the person will remain in the home country, ie, India, till the travel restrictions are lifted.
Who are the other visa holders whose entry into the US is restricted?
With effect from 24 June, the Donald Trump administration banned the entry of following people with the following visas:
- L-1 visas for intracompany transfers
- H-1Bs for workers in specialty occupations as well as the H-4 visa for spouses
- H-2Bs for temporary non-agricultural workers
- J-1 visas for exchange visitors on a short-term basis like interns, trainees or those in summer work travel programmes
- L-1 visas allow the companies to transfer highly skilled workers to US for up to seven years
If I have to return to my home country and continue education online, will I get a refund on my fees?
This decision boils down to the university itself, if they are private and autonomous. You should get in touch with your respective university for details on this.