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US visa announcement: Anxiety, uncertainty grip students enrolled for online-only classes

By Aishwarya Iyer, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON JUL 25, 2020 11:40 PM IST

It’s like the worst has happened, says Aanchal G, who enrolled in a Masters programme at the University of Pennsylvania; got a scholarship that covered her tuition; celebrated her imminent departure, and now finds that she may have to stay home.

On Friday, the Trump administration announced that foreign students with online-only classes will not be eligible to enter the country. Aanchal’s institute has gone completely online amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

When the US government announced, on July 6, that students with entirely-online courses could not stay in the country, that had caused her first wave of panic. When that order was rolled back, Aanchal began to breathe again. “Now, I am totally disappointed,” she says.

It’s been heartbreak all around in the student community, for those headed to the US. While this decision too may be amended or reversed, it stands for now, adding a layer of anxiety and uncertainty in an already unprecedented time.

Following Friday’s announcement, some Mumbai students said they are considering deferring study; others are opting to go through with it because of loans already taken and / or grants received.

Aanchal plans to stay the course. “Maybe things will change, or I will get to meet everyone there once the Fall semester ends,” she says.

A lose-lose situation

For those enrolling in colleges with a hybrid module that allows students to choose an on-campus or online experience, students from India will be forced to choose the former just to get their visas — even if it means exposing themselves to the virus in the country with the world’s highest number of cases.

“I gave up a job with such a good profile to pursue this course. I can’t afford to skip a year,” says Shruti Babbar, 23, enrolled in a Masters course in science project management and business analytics at Northeastern University, Boston. “Plus, I’ve taken an education loan.”

Shruti’s father Arun, a real-estate and travel agent, says he wanted to plan everything perfectly for his only child. “When the pandemic complicated everything, that was the first time my wife and I got upset. But we didn’t let on. We put on bright smiles. As things fell into place, we booked flight tickets and made a deposit on accommodation in Boston for Shruti. The tickets have already been cancelled twice. Only part of the accommodation charges will be refunded.”

Kimberly Wright Dixit, founder of study-abroad consultancy The Red Pen, says the drawbacks for architecture, engineering and medical students are most significant. Aseem Visal, 28, would agree. He was scheduled to do a Masters in materials science and engineering at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He has deferred his programme. “It just isn’t practical to try and do it online from here,” he says.

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