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.

Experts say 'not so soon' as Pakistan hopeful to exit global terrorism-financing watchlist

Updated 21 October 2020

Experts say 'not so soon' as Pakistan hopeful to exit global terrorism-financing watchlist

  • Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is reviewing Pakistan’s progress in countering terrorism financing during a plenary session from Wednesday to Friday
  • Pakistan was put on the FATF’s grey list in June 2018 and handed a 27-point action plan, of which it so far managed to implement 21

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government on Wednesday said it is optimistic that the country will be removed from the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) grey list this week, but experts argue it is unlikely to happen during the watchdog's ongoing plenary session.

The FATF is reviewing Pakistan’s progress in countering money-laundering and terrorism financing in a virtual plenary session from Wednesday to Friday.

"We are quite hopeful to be removed from the grey list as we have worked hard to comply with the action plan,” Mohsin Mushtaq Chandna, special secretary at the Ministry of Finance, told Arab News.

He added that the government’s team was "fully prepared" to represent the country in the virtual meeting from Wednesday to Friday.

Experts argue, however, that while Pakistan has made progress in implementing 21 points of the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) 27-point action plan, many issues remain and the best outcome of the session would be a deadline extension for Islamabad to address them.

“A lot of issues are still pending which need to be fixed like procedures regarding money transfer and banks compliance to certain protocols,” academic and columnist Umair Javed told Arab News.

“The best-case scenario for Pakistan is that it gets an extension to implement the remaining action points while staying on the grey list.”

He added that since some countries may try to push Pakistan to the FATF’s black list, it will matter how Islamabad handles its diplomacy during the watchdog's session.

According to Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia program at the Wilson Center, blacklisting will not happen. "Pakistan has made considerable progress on a number of its items and its action plan, and unless Pakistan were to experience significant backsliding in these areas, there's really no way that they could be blacklisted," Kugelman told Arab News.

He expressed doubt, however, over Pakistan's chance to exit the grey list, as despite progress many institutions exploited for terrorism financing still have not been dealt with. "There are concerns over new laws, new initiatives not being properly enforced, no indication that there is a clear blueprint, or how these initiatives will be enforced."

In political terms what may be significant, he said, is that "China no longer holds the presidency within the FATF and that means that it's not going to have an ally at the very top to try to help it."

Pakistan was placed on the FATF’s grey list in June 2018, after the 39-member global organization found deficiencies in the country’s legal framework to counter terrorism financing and money-laundering. Islamabad was then handed a 27-point action plan to initiate adequate measures to be removed from the grey list.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the FATF extended Pakistan’s deadline to meet the action plan from June to October.

The move to place Pakistan on the grey list was spearheaded by the United States over inaction against proscribed outfits such as Jaish-e-Mohammad and Jamatud Dawa, both of which were accused of cross-border terrorism. Islamabad has since seized assets of the groups and imprisoned their leaders. It has also recently adopted legislation that strengthens its banking channels against money-laundering to the FATF action plan's requirements.

“I’m sure the member countries of the FATF will appreciate the will of the current government and in such a short span the way Pakistan has implemented these 21 points, it is very appreciable,” Muzzammil Aslam, a Karachi-based senior economist, told Arab News.



He added that Pakistan required support of at least three FATF members to avoid blacklisting, and eight to 12 members to exit the grey list, but the US decision would be decisive.

"Pakistan has already engaged one of the lobbyists for this (in the US) and if not in October, then definitely we’ll be out of the grey list next year in June,” Aslam said.

Dr. Khaqan Najeeb, a former adviser to the Ministry of Finance, said that Pakistan has strengthened its anti-money laundering and terrorism financing regime in compliance with the FATF’s action plan.

“Considering the sincere effort since 2018 and more than satisfactory progress, Pakistan would be taken off the grey list of the FATF sooner than later,” he told Arab News.