Amidst the devastating Covid-19 pandemic, the US administration has decided to send back home all foreign students who are studying there, an act by any standard unprecedented. US has been one of the major destinations for international students for decades, as it has some of the finest learning institutions, like Harvard, MIT and UCLA, to name but a few. Some Chinese students have also done so.
The history of higher education in that nation goes back to 1636, when the first institution of higher education, Harvard University, was established in Boston, Massachusetts. Since then, the country has seen the world of higher education go from good to better to best. The system has produced some brilliant researchers, scientists, doctors and engineers. The institutions of higher education have constantly attracted not only students from home but also from overseas. All governments and universities have encouraged foreign students to travel to the US for higher studies by providing scholarships and other sorts of financial support.Now, however, the US Immigration Department has ordered approximately 1.1 million students, including 7,800 students from Bangladesh and about three hundred and seventy thousand from China to leave. Chinese students form the largest group of foreign students there. Over the past two years international students have been subject to close scrutiny in US. They can only work part-time on-campus jobs; must maintain a full course load and prove they can pay for tuition and living costs. The application fees have been raised in most universities. These and similar policies have drastically altered the policy landscape for international students in the US over the past two years. If the current government order comes into effect, US universities will lose their standing as ‘campuses of diverse culture and people.’
Some universities including Harvard and MIT have challenged the order of the government in the court but it has already created enormous fear among international students who are thinking about where they want to pursue their undergraduate or graduate education, according to US attorney Paul Hughes.
Universities and advocates who want the order to be revoked see it as unnecessary anti-immigrant rhetoric from an administration which will make the US less attractive for prospective foreign students and will send a message across the world that the nation is no longer a welcoming place for them. The US has historically been a land of immigrants. What the US is today in terms of development in research, science and technology owes much to foreign students who have entered the job market after they finished their education there. Approximately 60 per cent of NASA scientists and 30 per cent of healthcare professionals in the US are foreign born, of whom many had their higher studies in US. Studying medicine there is very expensive and so the health care system relies on immigrants.
After 9/11, the US government practically stopped giving student visas to foreigners, especially those from Middle Eastern countries. This proved to be very costly for many universities as foreign students pay higher tuition fees compared to American students. This status continued for about five years and many US universities boasted fewer and fewer foreign students. During this time many European countries including the UK, Singapore, Japan and Australia relaxed their student visa protocols and what was the US’s loss was a gain for these countries.
As the US has ordered all foreign students to go home, British universities have been more pragmatic. Universities in UK have gone to the extent of planning for chartering flights to bring students from China and India. Both these countries have been major sources of students for British colleges and universities. Foreign students pay practically three times more tuition than the locals. Foreigners have played a significant role in the UK economy and in some areas like the service sector, small scale retailing has always been dominated by foreigners, many of whom went to Britain for their studies and stayed back.
The sudden decision by the US administration to deport foreign students is not only inhuman but will be counterproductive for institutions of learning in that country. Educators, human rights activists, universities themselves and of course parents are worried about the future of these students. The US, which has shown its humane face on many occasions earlier, should re-consider the decision to deport 1.1 million foreign students from its soil. Education should not be mixed with politics.
The writer is an analyst and a commentator.