RAWALPINDI: President Donald Trump’s decision to revoke visas of all foreign students whose courses have been moved online due to the coronavirus outbreak has caused widespread panic, with several Pakistani students telling Arab News on Monday that the move could “disrupt” their future and education.
It follows a July 6 announcement by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) which would force tens of thousands of international students to return to their home country, unless their university offers in-person classes.
“This would be devastating for many reasons. I have a lease. I have furniture. I have a life, a routine, friends, I would have to buy a ticket. I haven’t even checked if there are flights home. The ruling is a disruption to my future and education,” Sarah Latif, who is from Karachi and did not wish to be identified by her real name, told Arab News over the phone from New York.
The restrictions affect holders of F-1 and M-1 visas which are used by international students who make up more than one million of the student population numbers across universities in the US
More than 13,000 out of those are from Pakistan.
The Trump administration and ICE has been increasingly cracking down on immigration with the latest measure issued a few months after a reprieve was granted to F-1 visa holders.
This allowed most universities to conduct classes online and limit the spread of coronavirus on campuses.
Many now fear that if the new ruling is imposed, they would have no choice but to leave the country, with Latif saying that she had been feeling “frustrated” and “anxious” since the announcement last week.
“I haven’t been able to do any work. (The fear of) having to go home (to Pakistan) — being in a different time zone with bad Internet, disconnected from library resources and professors would be detrimental to my studies,” she said.
The past few days have seen petitions being filed against ICE by three of the country’s top varsities – the Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Rice University – to stop the agency from going ahead with the ruling.
Meanwhile, New York University has introduced an in-person class for all international students, which would allow them to take at least one course on campus with the rest online – a necessary criterion for the visas to be issued and remain valid.
Others students, however, spoke about how the directive would “force universities to open campuses and risk the students’ health.”
“If a case breaks out because of this, the campus will close again, what happens then?,” Abdullah Zahid, 22, who is pursuing a bachelor’s program at the Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, told Arab News.
Zahid has been in Islamabad since March after traveling home before the outbreak and says that the Babson model – where classes are held both online and in-person – could allow him to return to campus later this month.
That, however, is the least of his worries.
“Being an ‘international’ (student) doesn’t put me in a good spot as it is, you have such a big filter, and now that filter is a cage – either you suffer and come back, or you don’t come back and suffer some more,” he said.
#WATCH: A Pakistani student describes President Trump's decision, revoking visas of foreign students forced to shift courses online as a result of the #CoronavirusPandemic as a 'slap in the face.' || @abdullahzahid58
Read special by @sabahbanomalik: https://t.co/79PlcN0l5u pic.twitter.com/lRD0n4C3AJ
— Arab News Pakistan (@arabnewspk) July 14, 2020
Hassan Nadeem, 27, a student of Masters in Energy & Environment, in Durham, North Carolina, agrees.
He said that the ruling would force foreign students to rethink “where they fit in” in the current setup.
“It’s a sweeping ruling and leaves a lot of questions,” he said, adding that he was considering moving to another country.
“I am increasingly thinking of (moving to) Canada... It’s more of a wait and watch policy at my end, and I think for a lot of other international students as well,” he told Arab News.
Like Nadeem, Fatima Mohsen, a University of South Florida Masters student, said she was concerned about the legalities of securing a work visa in the country, now that she had completed her course.
“When you’ve graduated, you’re in a very different status, until you secure a work visa. In this transition state, there’s no communication about what will be the legal standpoint to have the IDs valid. A lot of people have graduated, they’re here snd are looking for work, but they don’t know if they’re going to be in legal status for the next six months,” she told Arab News.
Meanwhile, officials said that Fullbright Scholar students from Pakistan had no cause for concern as they were on “government-sponsored programs.”
“Fullbrighters are there on J Visas on government-sponsored programs they are not on the F visa,” Rita Akhtar, Executive Director of the United States Educational Foundation in Pakistan (USEFP) which heads the Fulbright Commission told Arab News.
She added that irrespective of whether the students study in person or online, their scholarships would remain intact.
“We’ve known for quite a while that schools are not likely to open in the fall. Most of [the students] were already planning to go in January; we’re still making sure that they can be full-time students, even if they can’t physically get to the US in the fall so that they can do their program,” she added.