American dreamThe government must tap into diplomatic channels to help Nepali students in the US continue their education safely.
Nepal ranks 12th in the number of both undergraduate and graduate students in the United States of America, according to the Open Doors 2019 report published by the Institute of International Education. The numbers are testimony to the fact that the US is a top choice for Nepali students who want to study abroad.
The US Embassy in Nepal and its partner United States Educational Foundation also promote higher education and exchange opportunities for Nepali students and host a series of events and workshops. But the latest announcement by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement that international students could face deportation unless they change to an institution with in-person tuition leaves thousands of Nepali students who pursue their dreams in the US in limbo.
The Trump administration has already imposed a number of restrictions on legal and illegal immigration in recent months citing the pandemic. Only last month, the administration suspended work visas for non-immigrant workers. It also suspended the admission of asylum seekers from Mexico. The latest announcement targeting international students and threatening them with deportation comes when a number of US universities are considering virtual teaching amid the Covid-19 situation.
Speaking at a White House summit to discuss school reopenings on Tuesday, President Donald Trump warned that his administration would pressure state governors and educators to reopen schools for in-person learning this fall, despite the pandemic already wreaking havoc on education.
While top universities in the US have condemned the deportation policy and vowed to protect international students, the Association of American Universities also released a statement on Tuesday stating that the new policy requiring international students to take in-person classes to retain their visa status is immensely misguided and deeply cruel. The association also strongly urged the Trump administration to provide temporary flexibility to permit international students to participate in the range of in-person, online and hybrid instruction, considering the pandemic.
Worldwide, school openings have been subject to the evolving nature of Covid-19, and educational institutions have struggled to forge a way forward to impart education as the virus spreads. But President Trump claimed on Twitter that Democrats wanted schools closed for political and not health reasons as Americans prepare for elections this fall.
The government must follow the latest directive by the Trump administration closely as it directly affects thousands of Nepali students who are already facing uncertainties in the wake of the pandemic. The options for Nepali students are few as international students are now required to enrol in at least one in-person course this fall to remain in the US or choose to enrol online from outside the US. For those who are enrolled in schools planning to operate fully online, there is no choice.
To safeguard Nepali students from the unforeseeable future as the new decision is due to be finalised by the end of this month, the government needs to urgently tap into diplomatic channels so that Nepali students can be exempted from such a rigid and irrational policy that restricts them from continuing their education and also puts their lives at risk. The government must also alert the Nepali Embassy in the US to take stock of the situation of Nepali students spread across the country and immediately work on a Plan B in case thousands of students need repatriation.
It is to be noted that the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement had earlier issued an exemption allowing international students to take more online classes amid the pandemic. The government must ensure Nepali students feel safe and have a conducive environment to continue their education during this global health emergency.