Monday's announcement of the United States of America restricting the F-1 visa holders or international students from acquiring education in online mode due to the Covid-19 crisis will have an adverse impact on the future of the US, say experts.
Gaurav Khanna, assistant professor, School of Global Policy and Strategy, University of California San Diego, told News18.com, “These restrictions will hurt the US economy in many ways.”
He explained further that in the research his team conducted, which was published in the American Economic Journal this year, they found that international students are a crucial source of revenue for the higher education sector. “Without international students, universities would have to drastically cut their expenditures or research and teaching related activities, greatly harming the higher education sector. They would also have to raise revenues by now raising tuition rates for local US students, making it harder for locals to attend universities,” he said.
“This deterioration of the university sector will have a long term negative consequence for the US economy, as this is the sector that produces the next generation of innovators, business leaders and policymakers.”
Khanna pointed out that additionally, while studying in the US, students contribute a lot to the local economy (especially in small college towns) by being important consumers of housing, cars, and other products. “This contribution is about $41 billion.”
Not to forget, he said, “These very students are more likely to later become scientists, healthcare professionals, and inventors, which can produce large productivity gains to a country like the US, especially when faced with the recent crises. The US seems to be shutting the doors on those who can help it the most.”
The international students are dejected as they face the risk of deportation if the universities they’ve joined move classes entirely online in the fall semester. The rules are not the same for foreign students attending schools offering “normal in-person classes”. The condition is that they cannot take more than “one class or three credit hours online”.
Harvard president Lawrence Bacow issued a statement, saying, “We are deeply concerned that the guidance issued today by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement imposes a blunt, one-size-fits-all approach to a complex problem, giving international students, particularly those in online programs, few options beyond leaving the country or transferring schools.”
He added, “This guidance undermines the thoughtful approach taken on behalf of students by so many institutions, including Harvard, to plan for continuing academic programs while balancing the health and safety challenges of the global pandemic.”
Khanna warned that such policies are not only going to affect current international students, “but also presumably discourage students in the future from choosing the US as a destination for higher education. Feeling unwelcome and having an uncertain future would make such students either stay behind in their home country, or choose other destinations like Canada, the UK or Australia.”
Immigration lawyer Poorvi Chothani shared similar views. Students who are currently in India and are either waiting to go back (as they already have a student visa) or are waiting for visa approvals, will be impacted and they may actually change their plans, she said.
"But when you look at it from a different perspective, if you are a student or a parent, what does an American education mean? Forget about exposure to Covid, generally, we send our children there for the exposure they get, the mingling, the interpersonal relationships, the interactions, and access to world-class infrastructure at the universities to name a few,” she pointed out.
All that is anyway not going to happen. “So why spend on living expenses in addition to tuition fees? You might as well do a semester or a year from outside the US if necessary, or take a gap year. This would, in turn, hit the universities' finances hard,” she added.
According to the American non-profit, Institute of International Education, Indian students constitute nearly 20 per cent of the 10.95 lakh students who go from across the world to study in the US. Interestingly, China accounts for over 35 per cent of the foreign students in the United States.
Data from the agency shows as many as 10,94,792 students from across the world went to the US in the academic year 2017-18. Of these, students from China were over 3.63 lakh, and from India 1.96 lakh. The number of international students in the US rose marginally in 2018-19 to 10,95,299. Again, the number of Chinese students was the biggest at 3.69 lakh students, while Indians were second with 2.02 lakh students. To put this in perspective, the number of Indian students, for instance, was more than double those from all of Europe put together both years. Indian students take loans of a minimum of Rs 40 lakh to as much as Rs 75 lakh to fund their education in the US.
Chothani said, “The new rules may actually backfire on the US government. Universities may even sue their government as they lose out on revenues. US universities are generally not-for-profit organisations. However, they do depend on revenues and donations. Typically, revenues come from students who pay full tuition fees, a large number being foreign nationals, and donations, usually in the form of endowments that are used to pay professors, other expenses.”
The tuition fees from students are often used to subsidise American students or to subsidise scholarships, etc. “So that money is very important for universities which spend thousands of dollars each year recruiting students from abroad,” she said, adding, “Sometimes, for example, universities recruit a brilliant science student; but because he cannot pay the fees, the university cannot give him admission.”
To retain such promising students, universities offer them scholarships, tuition waivers, support with living expenses, or similar incentives. “Universities may find it hard to fund these if they lose large amounts of revenues from foreign students" she pointed out.
While Indian students abroad took to social media on how their life is caught between the risks of death and deportation and the constant work of re-planning, the US might be hit by the ricochet of its own move.