"My younger daughter is a final-year student in Pomona College in California and it is impossible for her to even consider leaving the US now despite classes going online.
She is preparing for her thesis, for which she needs access to the library and laboratory. She will also be filing a petition for optional practical training (OPT), which will allow her to remain in the US and look for a job after course completion," says Mohan.
The period between filing for OPT with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and getting an employment authorisation document, which permits a student to remain there to look for a job, could be between 60 and 120 days. Leaving the US during that period is not advisable for applicants, says Sudhir Shah, a Mumbaibased immigration lawyer. "The economic situation has become more uncertain now due to coronavirus. It may get tougher for students to find employment after their course."
Early this week, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and 150 other US universities said they were moving all undergraduate and graduate classes online for the time being. Several institutes have asked students to vacate the campuses until further notice. Suddenly, students, especially those who have taken loans and work part-time on campus to sustain themselves, have been left in the cold. They would have to find accommodation outside campuses, which can be expensive, to stay back in the US or return to their home country.
"US colleges, especially those in areas with many cases of coronavirus patients, are looking to reduce the campus population," says Adarsh Khandelwal, cofounder and director of overseas education consultancy Collegify.
News articles in the US have reported stories of even low-income American students facing financial and other troubles because of a sudden shutdown that is forcing them to go back home. Some colleges have offered to accommodate students who cannot travel back home at such short notice.
Many colleges and communities have set up helpline desks for international students who do not have family or friends to stay with in the US. Despite these measures, students and parents have been rattled by the situation.
"We have been told that campus will remain open," says an undergraduate student from India at UCLA who doesn't want to be named. "But only the barest of resources, like dining, would be available. A lot of students and their parents are panicking." The undergrad student has moved into a relative's place for now.
"Students are confused about whether they should come back to India or stay back in the US," says V Anandkumar, an IT professional in Bengaluru whose daughter is an undergraduate student at the UCLA.
"My daughter has gone to her friend's place in the US till the end of the semester. After that, she will head to my sister's place in Silicon Valley. But not everyone has family in the US and many Indian students are being forced to head home.
UCLA is among the universities that have shifted classes and exams online.
Students who have chosen US universities known for prestigious classroom learning experience are not appreciative of shifting to an online mode.
"Classroom learning is an immersive experience, especially for soft-skills courses such as leadership, which benefit from group work or classes based on case discussions," says Aditi Chadha, who is enrolled into MIT's prestigious Sloan MBA programme.
"It is hard to do that online, and to electronically raise your hand each time on a software." And what about campus events for recruitment and networking that have been cancelled or maybe streamed online? The online mode would not be as compelling as the real one when it comes to networking and interviews, says Chadha, who cofounded DAZL, a tech startup in Gurgaon that created a wearable device with SOS alerts targetted at women, before going to the US for the MBA.
For those who opt to return, Khandelwal says the time difference between the US and India and internet connectivity issues could pose problems for virtual classes.
Thousands of Indian students in the US and their parents share similar concerns. The parents were reluctant to mention their children's names because of the uncertainty regarding visa and job prospects.
There is, however, some hope for students on F1 visas, which mandate a certain number of class-hours on campuses. The USCIS said it would make accommodation for such candidates. "Students on F1 visas should be able to maintain their status even if the programme goes online and they leave the campus as long as the university makes the notification to USCIS within 10 days," says Cyrus Mehta, an immigration lawyer in New York.
If the pandemic situation worsens and schools have to completely shut down and students have to come back to India, he says, USCIS may still allow them to keep the F1 status. Such steps have been taken in the past, such as after the attack on the World Trade Center in September 2001.
For now, the atmosphere of uncertainty continues to haunt the thousands of Indian students spread across US campuses and their parents in India.
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10 Comments on this Story
Srinivasan Vedantam312 days ago
First stop exodus of students to foreign countries for studying and give right to education as fundamental and create more universities and institutions for not only caste mongers but every citizen regardless of caste creed or religion. Make higher education cheaper with an obligation to work in India for minimum five years or pay the cost and stop employing foreign technicians.
Narayanan Mahalingam312 days ago
Looks like you can use kids studying in America as trophy anymore!!!!
Dinesh Jain313 days ago
Are we saying that in India we do not have colleges because of which these people send all their children to study in USA? Probably there is something else behind this act of education and certificate / degree from a college in USA.