Home >Education >news >What the latest court ruling means for Indian students in US

On 6 July, the Donald Trump administration flung international students in the United States into a cauldron of uncertainty by declaring they would have to leave the country in 10 days if their universities opt for online-only classes for the August to December semester. However, on 14 July, at the first hearing of the first of many potential court challenges from universities and states, the US government backtracked without a fight.

About 202,000 Indian students who study in the US every year can breathe easy again. As per the now-revoked directive, international students would have had to take at least one course on campus to reside in the US. American universities, shut since March due to the coronavirus pandemic, would have had to allow on-campus classes to comply with the directive. Now, they don’t have to go against the prevailing grain of medical opinion and resume classes in haste.

By extension, current international students in the US don’t have to force themselves to college or face the risk of eviction from the country. And incoming students to the US can keep their options open on attending classes online or on campus.

For Indian students, the US is the top choice of foreign education by a long way. According to the Indian ministry of external affairs, 28% of Indian students studying abroad were in the US, as on 18 July 2018. The US was followed by Canada (16%) and Australia (12%).

In 2018-19, the US had about 1.1 million foreign students, according to Open Doors: Report on International Educational Exchange 2018-19, an annual study sponsored by the US government. China led with a 33.7% share, followed by India (18.4%). The next highest share was of South Korea, a long way behind (4.8%).

American universities need international students as much as international students seek out US universities. According to the NAFSA: Association of International Educators, international students spent $44.7 billion in the US in 2018-19 (fees plus other expenses), led by California ($6.8 billion) and New York ($5.3 billion). Assuming Indian students in each state spent the same as other international students, in the 10 states most popular with Indian students, they would have spent a cumulative $4.7 billion in 2018-19.

Indians also contribute immensely to the skilled workforce in the US, and a lot of those roots lie in American higher education. Of the 202,000 Indian students in the US, nearly 71% were studying maths, computer science and engineering.

The now-revoked directive for international students closely follows the Trump administration suspending new medium-term work visas for 2020. The latter move was criticised by CEOs of leading American companies, including Tim Cook of Apple and Sundar Pichai of Google. Tech firms in the US are melting pots. For example, according to the 2018 diversity report of Apple US, 23% of its employees were of Asian descent, 14% were Latin or Hispanic, while 50% were white.

With presidential elections months away, the Trump administration has been pressing to reopen the US to demonstrate normalcy and effective disaster management. This directive was to force the hand of American universities to reopen. These universities stood to lose much in terms of current fees from, and future attractiveness to, international students.

The US administration asked universities to reissue I-20 forms to all international students by 4 August. This form lists a student’s academic information and determines their visa status. With that directive, it would have also determined if they could stay in the US or not.

Had the directive gone through, it would have put American universities and Indian students in a spot. The spread of the virus would have been a factor in American universities deciding to open for classes or not. After tapering earlier, new cases in the US are rising again.

Just 10 of the 50 American states account for 65% of the 202,000 Indian students in the US. In all 10 states, the compounded daily growth rate (CDGR) of new cases over the past 30 days is positive. They are led by Texas (CDGR of 3.85%) and California (2.72%), which account for 21% of Indian students in the US. To put this in context, Maharashtra had a CDGR of 3.1% in new cases over the past 30 days.

The turmoil has passed and it’s back to status quo for international students in the US. That’s for now, because with Trump, you never know.

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