As the campus agitations in the US over Israel’s actions in the Gaza turned torrid, sparking police action in places like Columbia University, and rival group clashes in University of California, ripples of anxiety are being felt in India. According to the Open Doors Report of the US State Department, students from India constitute more than 25 per cent of the over one million foreign students in the US.

With news filtering in of an Indian origin student being arrested and barred by Princeton university, parents are calling up their children studying in the US, telling them to stay uninvolved. Meanwhile, education counsellors say they are getting anxious calls from students who have obtained admission in the US but are now rethinking their options.

Some are looking at Ireland as an alternative, while others with jobs are postponing their further studies plan. A dismayed Aakriti Mehta (name changed), told businessline that she had got selected to a Masters programme in Columbia University but is in two minds.

On the other hand, Sneha Jogi, French Trainer at the Alliance Francaise in Hyderabad, whose 18-year old son has got admission in the University of Utah for a 4-year computer sciences and game design course, is sanguine.

“We consulted with numerous International Student Advisors about the incidents in US campuses. It is the student culture, you know. India also has a very prominent protest culture. So you can’t stop people protesting, but you can choose to stay away from it.” Gurugram-based Manav Bansal, whose son is an undergraduate student in a reputed university in south-east US, is unperturbed too. “Education, especially in the US, is not limited to the classroom. It is an expression of democracy in action. Students, largely young people, are allowed to protest for things they believe in. It is a great learning for my son and everyone around the world.” However, he adds, “Protestors should understand the limits of the protest and what they are protesting about. And they should not paralyse the administration of schooling as seems to be happening in Colombia.”

Fears over visa

Meanwhile, Indian students on US campuses expressed fears. Hita Parakh, a student at Suffolk University Boston, said, “Indian American students who are not on a student visa are participating more actively in the protests as they do not fear getting deported. As for students with visas, we are scared to voice our opinion as if the university ends up calling the cops, we might get in trouble.”

“Those who participated in the protests face detention and serious risks to their visa status and scholarships, if identified,” a worried parent told businessline. In case of an expulsion or suspension, students on a F-1 or J-1 visa will in all likelihood lose their visas immediately. Once revoked, they shall be expected to leave the country immediately along with his/her dependents. Typically, an F-1 visa allows a student to temporarily live in the United States for a defined period of time while studying at a school, college, seminary, or conservatory. On the other hand, a F-2 visa, is a non-immigrant temporary permit for the immediate family of F1 student visa holders. A J-1 visa is granted in case of an exchange programme.

Rutuja  Deshmukh, a graduate student at Michigan State University, said, “Twenty six campuses across the US have encampments for the protest. These are student voices, and it’s becoming one of the biggest agitations across America. It’s incredible how students are supporting each other and showing solidarity for the ongoing genocide in Palestine. I haven’t seen that much violence, at least not at MSU. As of now, except for Colombia, the protests have been non-violent.”

Trying to sound reassuring, Aman Singh, Co-Founder & CEO, GradRight, told businessline, “We believe long-term educational planning often transcends temporary events. We understand the recent protests in the US may raise questions for prospective international students. However, studying in the US remains a long-term decision for students and their families, focused on educational goals and career aspirations.”

(With inputs from Abhishek Law, Amiti Sen, Arushi Mishra, Ramit Mehrotra)

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