India is concerned that its students may be affected adversely by the US decision to tighten its scrutiny of international students after the Boston marathon bombings, and plans to share its worries with the Obama administration, top government officials here have said.
Human resource development (HRD) minister MM Pallam Raju is expected to seek clarity on the visa tracking reforms when he meets top US officials during his visit to Washington DC, Boston and Philadelphia from May 13-16.
Over 100,000 Indian students are studying in the US at present, the second largest international contingent on American university campuses after the Chinese.
Raju's visit also comes close on the heels of the US Congress considering a new immigration bill that could curb H1B visas to Indian IT firms.
"I will definitely take up both these issues - that affect our students and our young workforce - with officials during my meetings there," Raju said, responding to a question from HT.
Raju, who pursued his MBA at Philadelphia's Temple University and then worked in the US before returning to India, will meet his counterpart, US secretary of education Arne Duncan and members of the Senate's India Caucus - a bipartisan forum of American legislators launched by former secretary of state Hillary Clinton to lobby for stronger Indo-US ties.
The US department of homeland security has decided to put in place a new tracking mechanism that keeps a closer watch on the visa status of international students, and updates its border security officials about any changes more regularly than at present.
Republican congressmen have also demanded that the department tighten the criteria used to award student visas.
The moves come after the FBI discovered that Azamat Tazhayakov, a 19-year-old Kazakh student accused of interfering with investigations into the Boston terror attacks by hiding a backpack and fireworks belonging to key bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was in the US illegally.
Tazhayakov, a friend of Tsarnaev, had been dismissed by the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, for academic reasons on January 4.
The dismissal meant that his student visa expired immediately, but Tazhayakov was allowed back into the US on January 20 because the visa on his passport stated validity up to August, and immigration authorities were unaware of his dismissal from the Dartmouth school.
Indian officials emphasized that they fully respect the US initiative to prevent any such slip up in the future, but said their concerns stem from the fears that innocent students trapped by unscrupulous agents may become collateral victims.
"What we would like is clarity on the processes that will be followed in such cases, to ensure that genuine, innocent students who may be victims of fraud don't suffer," a senior official said, requesting anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press.
Indian officials point to the cases of Tri Valley University and Herguan University, unaccredited Silicon Valley schools that were caught in a visa fraud racket - Tri Valley in 2011 and Herguan in 2012.
Both these universities relied heavily on Indian students, mostly from Andhra Pradesh - Raju's state.
In both cases, hundreds of Indian students faced the prospect of deportation because the validity of their student visas came under a cloud.
At one stage in early 2011, hundreds of the Indian students at Tri Valley were even treated as suspects, and made to wear location-tracking anklets that triggered outrage in India.
Many of these students had to eventually return to India, while about 450 were allowed to transfer to other US institutions.