A bipartisan group of 21 Congressmen has urged the Trump administration to take all necessary steps to ensure international students can enrol for Fall classes.
The Congressmen also asked the administration to preserve the Optional Practical Training (OPT) programme that allows the US to globally compete for market share of international students.
In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, the group said international students and their families contributed approximately $41 billion to the US national economy in 2018-2019 alone.
With more than 200,000 students, India accounts for the second largest number of international students in the US.
As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, a large number of international students are facing difficulties, both in terms of staying in the US and enrolling themselves for the OPT programme, and getting visas for Fall classes as issuing of visas is suspended.
The OPT programme allows international students to work in the US after completion of their courses.
The lawmakers feared that these might have an adverse impact on America being an attractive destination for international students.
The endurance of this tremendous economic contribution requires our nation adopt and retain policies that keeps the United States competitive for new students and provides continuity of education for those students and faculty who have already been part of our higher education communities, the Congressmen said in the letter.
While international students make up only 5.5 per cent of overall US college enrolments, they make significant contributions to communities and help American students develop skills vital to their future success in the global economy, said the letter dated June 2, a copy of which was obtained by PTI.
With the global closure of US embassies and consulates, international students have been unable to schedule visa appointments. College and universities face a potential 25 per cent decline in international student enrolment for the Fall 2020 term, the letter said.
America’s higher education institutions and communities are preparing for the possible reopening of their campuses and are in need of clarity as they work to advise students and faculty, allocate critical resources, and maintain continuity of education and research, the Congressmen observed.
To that end, we urge your respective departments to communicate and share plans to address the expected increase in demand for visa services, including how US consulates will be able to prioritise and process applications that include F-1 and J-1 visas, they said.
While the F-1 visa is for students attending a full-time degree or academic programme at a school, college or university in the US, the J-1 visa offers cultural and educational exchange opportunities in America through programmes overseen by the US State Department.
The F-1 visa is valid for as long as it takes the student to finish his or her course of study. An F-1 Visa also allows students to work on campus and in some situations even off campus.
We believe several options are available to your agencies including the ability to waive certain interview requirements, prioritise the rescheduling of appointments that were cancelled during COVID-19, and create a timely application and renewal process for professors, researchers, scientists, and those that are needed on US campuses when instruction is expected to resume, the letter said.
The Congressmen requested various agencies coordinate the admission of medical residents and fellows on J-1 and H-1B visas scheduled to begin their training program on July 1, many of whom will make vital contributions at university hospitals. Without these residents and fellows, patient care will be disrupted.
The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise.
In their letter, the Congressmen also urged the administration to publicly clarify that OPT will remain fully intact so that the US can send the right message abroad about America as an attractive destination for international students.
As countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, China and Australia bolster immigration policies to attract and retain international students, the last thing our nation should do in this area is make ourselves less competitive by weakening OPT, the letter said.
The programme is essential to the many international students who desire not just to study in the US but also have a post completion training experience, the lawmakers said.
Aware that some nations may seek to exploit certain international student programmes for their benefit, against US national interests, and against the spirit of research in American universities, the lawmakers said that there are strategic and targeted approaches to combatting those practices without weakening or suspending in full international student programs.
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