Pakistani students fear uncertain future after new US university rule

In this file photo, Hunter College graduates listen as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers the commencement address at the Hunter College Commencement ceremony at Madison Square Garden, May 29, 2019 in New York City. (AFP)
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Updated 14 July 2020

Pakistani students fear uncertain future after new US university rule

  • Follows Trump’s call to cancel foreign students’ visas if full courses are moved online due to COVID-19 outbreak
  • Restrictions to impact F-1 and M-1 visa holders in the country

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.

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.


Pakistanis in Dubai help release over 150 inmates from UAE prisons amid pandemic

Updated 45 min 38 sec ago

Pakistanis in Dubai help release over 150 inmates from UAE prisons amid pandemic

  • A majority of those who received Pakistan Association Dubai (PAD) assistance were Pakistanis, but it also helped a number of people of other nationalities
  • Prime minister’s special assistant for overseas Pakistanis says PAD is the main organization helping repatriate nationals from UAE

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Association Dubai (PAD) has helped amid the coronavirus pandemic release and repatriate more than 150 people from prisons in the United Arab Emirates.
In the past three months, PAD helped 154 inmates at prisons in Ajman and Dubai by buying their air tickets to return home and paid the fines required for their release orders to be issued. A majority of those who received PAD assistance were Pakistanis, but the association also helped a number of people of other nationalities.
“We arranged release and repatriation of 71 inmates from Ajman central prison this month. The initiative was not the first for PAD. We had also helped in release of 83 prisoners three months back from Dubai,” Rizwan Fancy, community welfare director at PAD, told Arab News over the phone from Dubai on Saturday.
The association has been working closely with UAE authorities.
“We were in process with Ajman government since the start of this month and completed the repartition this week after fulfilling all legal and medical requirements like COVID-19 testing,” Fancy said.
Those who received the assistance had been sentenced for petty crimes such as bounced cheques or overstaying. The have completed their sentences but were unable to pay release fines.
“We usually contact authorities and they share the list of such prisoners who can be released by paying small fines,” Fancy said. “We then arrange these things for the prisoners and subsequently their release takes place. We not only arranged for the release of Pakistani prisoners but managed to help in the release of 37 prisoners from other nationalities as well.”
The foreigners included citizens of Bangladesh, India, Ethiopia, Iran, Nigeria, Somalia, Iraq and Cameroon.
Every year, the association repatriates fellow nationals as well as other people who reach out for help, Fancy said.
“We take immense pride in serving the forgotten members of the community. We went out of our way and ensured support for all those deserving help.”
One of the repatriated Pakistanis, a resident of Chakwal who requested not to be named, said he is grateful to PAD. “They have arranged my repatriation from UAE. They have provided me with tickets and also fulfilled other requirements. My family is also very happy,” he told Arab News.
The prime minister’s special assistant for overseas Pakistanis, Sayed Zulifqar Bukhari, said that in PAD has been the main organization helping repatriate Pakistanis from the UAE.
“None of it would have been possible if we didn’t have the support and contributions of organizations like PAD and other individuals,” Bukhari said.
“It’s due to them why Pakistan has such a strong diaspora in UAE.”