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Jakarta Post

Indonesian students in limbo as US restricts visas

  • Dian Septiari
    Dian Septiari

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Tue, July 14, 2020   /   04:57 pm
Indonesian students in limbo as US restricts visas Thousands of Indonesian students in the United States are in limbo following a Trump administration policy that requires foreign students to leave the country if their schools move classes entirely online in response to the COVID-19 crisis. (Shutterstock/mangpor2004)

Thousands of Indonesian students in the United States are in limbo following a Trump administration policy that requires foreign students to leave the country if their schools move classes entirely online in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The Trump administration, through its Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, announced the rule last week for holders of certain student visas if their courses went fully online in the fall. In the US, the first semester of the school year often begins in early September and runs until mid-December.

“As we know, with the US government recently issuing the new policy regarding foreign students, basically, international students in the US cannot take a fully online set of courses and, instead, must have in-person classes or mixed classes,” Foreign Ministry director for citizen protection Judha Nugraha said last week.

He said all six Indonesian representative offices in the US had assured the nation’s students that the Indonesian government would protect them.

“Our representatives have also coordinated with various campuses regarding the US policy, including [exploring] the possibility of holding face-to-face or hybrid classes,” Judha said.

The new ICE policy exempts students at schools with full-time, in-person instruction, as well as most students attending schools with a mixed curriculum of in-person and online learning, provided those programs are approved by ICE, Reuters reported.

While there are fewer Indonesian international students in the US than those from other countries, American education remains an attractive option for Indonesian students seeking an education abroad.

The US has consistently been in the top five most favored destinations for Indonesian students, along with Australia, the United Kingdom, Singapore and China.

Alvinsyah A. Pramono, the chair of the Indonesian Students Association in the United States (Permias), said the new policy had taken everyone by surprise, forcing all representative offices, including the education and culture attaché, to seek clarification from US government agencies, particularly ICE, and campuses.

“This policy has confused everyone. However, so far we have not seen any immediate action because, from the data we have obtained, most campuses have opted to have hybrid systems, meaning they will conduct some in-person lectures,” he said.

Most of the 117 universities Permias surveyed have decided to use a combination of online and in-person classes to meet the requirements for the new school year this fall.

Seventy-six schools confirmed that they would have hybrid systems, while 6 others had decided to hold classes entirely in person. Three institutions – Harvard University, Vanderbilt University and San Joaquin Delta College – are moving fully online for the semester, while the remaining 32 have not made a decision and will give further notice about their policies at a later time, the survey found.

Despite assurances from most universities that they would use a mixed system, fears linger that policies will change along the way, as the US continues to report record-breaking daily increases in COVID-19 cases.

Infections are rising in about 40 states, and the country broke global records by logging about 60,000 new cases a day in the four days prior to Sunday, Reuters reported.

Alvin said some campuses that had previously opted for hybrid systems were now considering moving entirely online after the US holiday of Thanksgiving in November in anticipation of a second wave of outbreaks.

“This means that if the new regulation is still in place, Permias and the Indonesian representative offices have at least three months to prepare contingency plans,” Alvin said.

According to Permias data, 4,461 Indonesian university students are currently in the US, but the number affected could be higher if the regulation includes exchange students and students taking short courses in the US.

Alvin, citing the latest update from the Indonesian Embassy, lamented the fact that ICE had yet to develop clear procedures on what would happen to students whose schools had moved entirely online.

“We are not clear about this because [ICE] is also depending on the grace period,” he said.

The grace period allows students to stay in the US for 60 days after they graduate, which will allow them to take care of certain things, including changing their visa status if they want to work in the country. Students who decide not to finish their studies get a 15-day grace period, while students who are expelled do not have a grace period.

Some universities that previously announced they would move most of their 2020 classes online, including Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, filed a lawsuit in federal court on Wednesday, asking a judge to temporarily block the rule and invalidate it, Reuters reported. They argued in the lawsuit that the new policy threw their operations, and the operations of “virtually all of higher education in the United States”, into chaos.