The administration has reportedly been planning to either substantially curtail or suspend a popular programme that allows international students to stay back on their student visa and work for one to three years, known as Optional Practical Training (OPT). International students contribute $41 billion to the economy in the United States (US). They have also just forced the Donald Trump administration to rescind an order that would have led to the deportation of those among them enrolled in colleges offering online classes only for the upcoming fall semester.
It was a rare retreat for an administration that prides itself in its pertinacity. The students, a large percentage of whom are from India, did not fight back themselves. They couldn’t. Their colleges did for them, led by Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
But they fought as much for their students as for themselves. Full tuition-paying foreign students are critical for their financial well-being. And, of course, they are super-talented — some of them have gone on to found iconic companies such as Tesla and Moderna, the pharmaceutical firm that leads the worldwide race for a vaccine to beat the coronavirus. That’s their clout, and, together with strategically opportune assistance from other quarters, it saw them through this most unexpected crisis.
But the July 6 directive by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency left students shaken as never before. It caught them at the most vulnerable point in their lives as foreign students. Thousands of miles from home, they were trying to deal with the deadliest pandemic the world had faced in 100 years, with all its insecurities and uncertainties.
After the original order, international students could think and talk of nothing else. Would they be impacted? How badly? Would they have to choose a course because it would help them academically or because it would help them stay in the country, in compliance with the directive? These were not choices they had prepared to make, and, mercifully, they won’t have to now.
But there may be more coming. The administration has reportedly been planning to either substantially curtail or suspend a popular programme that allows international students to stay back on their student visa and work for one to three years, known as Optional Practical Training (OPT). This is considered to be a stepping stone to an H-1B and, eventually, a Green Card. More than 223,000 graduates remained under this programme in the 2018-19 academic year.
The administration plans to package the suspension with a more expansive executive order on immigration, which is due for an announcement any day now, as indicated by Trump several times recently.
It will be touted as a temporary measure, meant to ensure Americans have the first shot at any and all jobs that become available as the economy emerges from the crushing impact of Covid-19. It is the same underlying logic used for suspending Green Cards in April and all non-immigrant work visas in June, including H-1B and L-1, the two most popular types with Indians and Indian firms. And all of this may not be temporary. BY Jashwant Raj
The views expressed are personal