U.S Detains, Deports Indian Students in Batches, MEA Wakes Up Days Later With a Yawn
Air India launches first direct flight to Silicon Valley after PM Modi's visit
NEW DELHI: Has the Ministry of External Affairs been sleeping? It would seem so as it had no clue whatsoever why at least 30 students were deported from the United States, questioned for hours by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and according to some even kept in detention for two to three days. It was only after Air India explicitly refused to carry 19 students to the US to what are now being termed as two controversial universities---Silicon Valley and North Western Polytechnic College--- under ‘US scanner’ that the MEA woke up and contacted the US authorities for a clarification.
Interestingly, this clarification has still not come even though the Foreign Office here has lodged a protest against the treatment of the students. At least 30 were deported when they landed in the US on the Air India carriers, after which the airline refused to carry 19 more students with admission in maintaining that was following a “communication” received from US Customs and Border Protection Agency that the two universities Silicon Valley University and North Western Polytechnic College were under scrutiny. The students dismay finally caught the news headlines, with the students future now hanging in the balance. Air India has now announced that it will reimburse the fares of those 19 students who were not allowed to board the flight.
MEA was out of the picture completely, with clearly the US authorities not including it in the loop. Air India was contacted directly, leading to the question as to what was the procedure adopted by US Customs and Border Protection Agency for students who might have arrived on other carriers and not Air India. Also what about students of other nationalities, were they given the same treatment as the Indian students? There is no word from either the US or India of any other students, other than Indians, being meted this treatment.
The two Universities in question did not take calls on the listed numbers. The details about the faculty, board, on the web are scanty. However, both have claimed that they are not under scrutiny, suggesting that it was the documentation from the students that was faulty. And that other students from India had joined, with only some being stopped at the US immigration.
MEA has now responded to the crisis with an advisory a little late in the day. Under the title “Advisory for Students Travelling to the United States of America” issued on December 23, 2015 it states, “In recent days, there have been several instances of denial of entry by the US Immigration authorities to Indian students having valid student visas to pursue studies in two educational institutions, namely, Silicon Valley University at San Jose and Northwestern Polytechnic University, Fremont.
Government of India has taken up this matter with the US Government. We have asked the US authorities to explain the reasons for denial of entry on a large scale to Indian students holding valid visas. The response of the US Government is awaited.
Till such time the matter is satisfactorily resolved, the students seeking admission in aforementioned two institutions are advised to defer their travel to the United States.
All Indian students seeking admission in US educational institutions are advised to do due diligence to ensure that the institutions to which they are seeking admission have proper authorization and capacities. Apart from travel documents, the students should also carry all required documentation regarding their study plans, housing, financial support, healthcare arrangements etc. and be prepared for admission (entry to the US) interviews with U.S. immigration officials.”
Air India while offloading the last batch of students disclosed that, “14 students who travelled to USA, claiming admission in the two universities have been deported from San Francisco. Later, around 20 more students from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, with admission in same universities were denied entry on Air India flight on December 19 at the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport, Hyderabad.” The two universities have both rubbished the claims on their websites maintaining that they were not under any investigation.
The mystery thus continues, added to by the non-statement by the MEA that has recognised the problem finally but not shed any light on the reasons. Air India, in fact seems to have more information as given to it by the US Customs and Border Protection Agency with the Indian Foreign Office still waiting for clarifications from Washington. Interestingly it has not mentioned the
‘scrutiny’ of the Universities as a reason, and urged the students visiting the US to ensure proper documentation.
Significantly, the students being deported and not allowed to board the flight were all carrying valid visas issued by the US. As one of them pointed out, if the two Universities were indeed under scrutiny why were “we issued US visas?” Why indeed? More so, as the denial of entry and admission has cost the families a great deal of money, with not all the students being from an economic background that can sustain the financial loss.
The questions that remain unanswered thus, are:
1. Why if the two universities are under scrutiny were they allowed to grant admission to a fresh batch of students by the US authorities?
2. Are Indian students the only ones to be deported? Or do the two colleges not admit students of other nationalities outside India and the US?
3. What about students arriving in the US on carriers other than Air India? Were they able to join the said Universities?
4. Why did MEA not react immediately after the first batches of students were stopped, questioned, detained and deported?
5. How is it that the decision not to allow the students to board the flight was taken unilaterally by Air India? Was the MEA informed or not about the US ‘warning’?
6. How is that despite the query involving the students future, MEA has not been able to get a quick clarification about the two educational institutions from the US?
7. Does the problem lie with the US Agency, the Universities or Air India?
The last question arises from information posted by the Northwestern Polytechnic University that claims on its website,”"have spoken with a U.S. Customs and Border Protection representative and it is the representative's understanding that no U.S. government agency has 'blacklisted' NPU and that there is no general order for U.S. Customs officers to refuse entry into the U.S. by NPU students." It further, in what was seen as a veiled hint maintained, "If you plan to travel by Air India, we suggest that, if possible, you postpone your trip while university officials clear up this issue with Air India."
A representative with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement said the agency could not comment on the matter but noted that both schools are on the list of institutions approved for the Department of Homeland Security's Student and Exchange Visitor Program.
Northwestern Polytechnic University officials could not be reached for comment Monday. On the school's website, they say they "have spoken with a U.S. Customs and Border Protection representative and it is the representative's understanding that no U.S. government agency has 'blacklisted' NPU and that there is no general order for U.S. Customs officers to refuse entry into the U.S. by NPU students." The Fremont school offered a further warning: "If you plan to travel by Air India, we suggest that, if possible, you postpone your trip while university officials clear up this issue with Air India."