US President Donald Trump has taken another decision, after the suspension of the H1-B visa for the rest of the year, with an eye on the Presidential election later this year rather than on public interest. The recent ‘Proclamation’suspended H-1B (highskilled workers), H-4 (spouses of H-1Bs), L-1 (intra-company transfers) visas, among others, until the end of 2020. The stated reason: the US economy and high unemployment. Unstated reason: shoring up Trump’s base and tapping potential voters who have turned fearful of immigration because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is set to revoke the F1 visas of international students in the US if their institution goes fully online for the upcoming fall season. These students face deportation if they don’t shift to universities and colleges where in-person teaching exists or a blend of in-person and online course work is offered. The condition is almost impossible to satisfy because students cannot shift to other institutions half-way through the course, and even for some who can, it will involve huge financial costs. The move is clearly directed at foreign students and at universities whom Trump has been pressuring to reopen as part of his policy to reopen the economy. It is a coercive action which will leave most students without any good option. They will be forced to quit or will be deported. There are over one million foreign students in the US who will be affected by the decision. There is no denying that Critics have long claimed the H-1B progamme is nothing but a vehicle for cheap labour to be exploited by large corporations The arbitrary and insensitive move will further dent America’s image and do much harm to the education sector in the US, but Trump might have reckoned that it would boost his anti-immigrant credentials. He has been using even the pandemic to pander to xenophobia and strengthen his constituency before the elections, little realising the dangers of promoting hatred and divisiveness in politics and society.
With the Covid-19 crisis deepening in the US, most universities had no choice but to switch to the online mode, but Trump has used it as an opportunity to do political grandstanding to win applause from a section of people at the expense of the country’s interests. About half of the foreign students in the US are either Chinese or Indian. About two lakh Indians may be affected by the order and may have to leave the country. Trump’s order affects future applicants, not existing ones. Just as the US has benefitted from immigrants working in the country, its universities have benefitted from foreign students studying there. The students have contributed much to the high reputation of its educational institutions. All these institutions are keen to attract foreign students in their own interest and have an inclusive policy of admission. The universities have stoutly opposed the decision of the administration, and indeed the world’s foremost universities such as Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have challenged it in a court. The Indian government should also take up the matter with the US administration.