In one stroke of penning a directive to strip international college students of their visas if their course of study was entirely online, the Donald Trump-administered United States has thrown more than a million lives into uncertainty, that too in the time of the pandemic.
Among the 10 lakh students who were issued visas to US last year, there are at least two lakh young Indians who may face the distressing prospect of being deported at a time when there are no flights home and at the cost of several lakhs of rupees spent in college fees, getting to the US and setting up their lodging.
The Trump administration may be doing this to force universities into early reopening and filling dormitories and populating classrooms as a way of thrusting normality, but at a particularly difficult time when the virus is rebounding even as the US reopens. It is clear that the move goes far beyond domestic compulsions.
The xenophobic outlook of the Trump regime is once again exposed, the trait already made evident in restrictive moves made against work visas in June.
The action against foreign students can be interpreted as blatantly racist too as a majority of students who will be affected are Chinese (about 3,70,000), Indians (2,02,000) and South Koreans (52,000) who enrolled in 2018-19.
The pattern of hostility to immigrants, fuelled on in the Trump years that began with the idea of a Mexican Wall, is clear.
This could mean not only the end of pursuit of studies in the US but also evaporation of the “American Dream” for many youth who will be missing job opportunities, which may have been a good reason why they chose to study in the US. Foreign students, many of whom who pay full tuition fees, are also estimated to contribute upwards of $30 billion a year to the US economy while supporting about half a million jobs in and around academia.
American universities may innovate in offering in-person classes in hybrid courses and students residing in the US may just find ways past the regulations. But what is destroyed as lakhs of young people agonise over regulations that put them in the crosshairs is the old belief in America as the land of opportunity.
In narrow-minded pandering to American sentiment favouring the reduction of legal immigration to the US, the country could be shooting itself in the foot, with its post-Covid-19 economy to be affected even more as the number of international students intending to enrol in the fall semester is bound to fall drastically.
Nothing will, however, cut ice with the US President when he is seeking re-election. Every manoeuvre that projects itself as putting America, Americans and US jobs first can be traced to one man’s ambition to remain in the White House.
The student visa restrictions could be seen as primarily hitting at China, derided now as the source of the Covid-19 pandemic and consequent fall of the global economy. But, if Indian students become collateral damage, all the talk of special US-India ties amid Trump-Modi camaraderie gets shown up as empty.