India is the second largest source of international students after China with over 7.5 lakh students. Amid global coronavirus pandemic, several countries have introduced restrictive visa and immigration policies, thus putting the future of overseas students, especially from India, in limbo.
Many foreign universities sent students back home and continued with digital blackboards. The United States, the most preferred destination for Indian students (over 2 lakh students), recently changed its visa policies and temporarily blocked H1B visas which came as a bolt from the blue for Indians. The US, which claims to be India’s natural strategic partner, is now thinking to switch to merit-based immigration. Under this new rule, international students may stay in the country only if they attend a college or university offering in-person classes. Otherwise, they won’t be able to get visas (Including F1 and M1 visas as well) to enter the country or stay there if they plan to attend one of the many schools that are teaching students entirely online. The new order pertains to F1 students who are pursuing academic courses and M1 students who are pursuing vocation coursework.
US President Donald Trump’s order has now become a major cause of worry among Indian students as their visas might not get renewed and they might face deportation as well. Now most students are thinking of moving to Canada which is the second most preferred destination after the US, followed by Australia which ranks third.
However, many European countries adapted themselves wisely to the situation. The UK government has issued guidance and has confirmed that international students, including Indians, will remain eligible for poststudy work rights at the end of their degree course even if they have to begin the 2020- 21 academic year online from abroad. The post-study work visa, designed for overseas students will make them able to work or look for work for two years after completing their course. This will apply to the 2020-21 intake as long as they are physically present in the UK by April 2021 to complete the final semester.
France too remains a top destination as far as Indian students are concerned. The French Ambassador has also recently emphasised the overall strong Indo-French bilateral cooperation and the French attractiveness in the fields of research and higher education. A significant testimony to this strengthening relationship is the 50% increase in scholarships for the academic year which translates to Rs 10 crore. And now with France lifting nonSchengen travel restrictions from July and students’ visas being processed on priority, it is ready to welcome students on campus from September, although, initially the focus would be on the physical delivery model.
France is gearing up for a September intake like most other European countries, though Asian students will require a closer monitoring and assistance with travel and visas. The measures for the September intake include physical distancing, rolling classes, restructuring of activities within the curriculum for the MSc programmes; inter-campus digital interactions, digital pre-intake classes from October to December with a spring intake for the MBA programmes.
“Needless to mention, this is a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) situation. However, latest studies show that the global health crisis notwithstanding, majority of students who had planned higher education abroad want to continue because international universities have been expeditious in enhancing healthy safety frameworks for students while putting in place stronger support systems and incentives at the same time,” said Ashley Fernandes, the country head for India, Emlyon Business School, France.
“The main conversation we are having right now with Indian students is how to transform this constraint into an opportunity and we are mostly trying and helping them with increased scholarships to cope with the current situation and help them alleviate the financial burden. We are also helping some prospective students manage their risk assessment with deferment options,” he added.
The global health crisis notwithstanding, the majority of those who had planned higher education abroad would want to continue because international universities have been expeditious in enhancing healthy safety frameworks for students while putting in place stronger support systems and incentives at the same time. The government of Ireland has just announced that its visa application centres in India have reopened to process Indian student visas, in advance of September. In the initial stages of the pandemic, the Irish government had taken a series of measures, based on scientific advice, to slow the spread of the virus. The Irish government had quickly announced that in terms of healthcare, all international students in Ireland, of all nationalities who were directly affected by Covid-19 would have full access to the necessary part of Irish healthcare system, at no cost. Alongside that, the Irish government also decided that any international student who lost part-time work as a result of Covid-19 would be entitled to an emergency payment of EUR 350 per week, which is reassuring to students who had lost their part time job.
Barry O’Driscoll, Senior Education Adviser for Education in Ireland, said, “For us it is important that international students who remained in Ireland were taken care of. On the academic side, all lecturers and tutors are available online as students now undertake assessments. Higher education students across the world have seen the impact of covid-19 across all walks of life and because of that, expectations have evolved in terms of delivery of higher education programmes. There are currently a large number of Indian students who hold offers for places in Irish higher education institutions, particularly at the Masters level. In Ireland all institutions have developed blended learning options, where online and face to face learning is mixed.”