Indian Embassy here on Wednesday (local time) said it has taken up matter of US immigration authorities announcing modifications to requirements for student visas in the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic with concerned US officials.
The Embassy said the new modifications are likely to cause difficulties for some Indian students wishing to pursue their studies in the country.
“These new modifications at a time when many of the US universities and colleges are yet to announce their plans for the new academic year are likely to cause uncertainties and difficulties for some Indian students wishing to pursue their studies in the US,” the Indian Embassy said in a statement.
“We have taken up this matter with concerned US officials. At the India -US Foreign Office Consultations held on 07 July 2020, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla conveyed our concerns on this matter to Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale,” it added.
The Indian Embassy noted that partnership in higher education is a key component of the strong people-to-people ties between India and the United States.
“In the last two decades, Indian students in US universities and colleges have been the harbingers of a strong partnership between technology and innovation sectors between our two countries,” it said.
It expressed hope that the US authorities would provide adequate flexibility in their visa rule making while keeping in mind the extraordinary circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic for the Indian student community.
“We continue to engage all the stakeholders in the matters, including the US Administration officials, Congressional leaders, universities and colleges as well as the Indian student community in the US as we move forward towards the 2020-21 academic year to further strengthen our bilateral partnership in higher education,” said the Embassy.
The Embassy noted that the modifications restrict international students on F-1 and M-1 visas from taking courses entirely online.
“We have seen the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] announcement of July 6 regarding their Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) providing temporary exemptions for nonimmigrant students on F-1 and M-1 visas taking online classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic for the fall semester of the 2020 academic year,” said the Embassy.
“While these modifications do provide some flexibility for US universities and colleges to adopt a hybrid model – that is, a mixture of online and in person classes – they also restrict international students on F-1 and M-1 visas from taking courses entirely online,” it stated.
Students currently in the United States enrolled in online programmes must depart the country or take other measures, such as in-person instruction to remain lawfully in the US.
If not, they may face immigration consequences, including visa processing or travel restrictions, the US Department of State earlier said in response to new federal guidance on international students.
“The Department of Homeland Security has announced its plan for temporary modifications to F-1 and M-1 non-immigrant visa requirements for the fall 2020 semester. This will allow a mixture of both in-person and some online coursework to meet the requirements for non-immigrant student status. This temporary accommodation provides greater flexibility for nonimmigrant students to continue their education in the United States, while also allowing for proper social distancing on open and operating campuses across America,” the spokesperson of the State Department had said in a statement.
“International students will still have to obtain the appropriate visa and may still be subject to other visa processing or travel restrictions due to COVID-19,” the spokesperson added.