When a student decides to go abroad for further studies, meticulous planning follows. But after everything seems to fall in place, what if the student is deported to his/her country even before he/she gets a chance to join the college? In the recent past, many students have had to undergo this traumatic experience due to various reasons. In this interview, Harjiv Singh, founder and CEO, Salwan Media Forum and convener, One Globe Knowledge Conference, sheds light on the reasons behind this problem and how to avoid it.
Why are Indian students deported back home? How does it impact them?
We see two main sources of fraud. While the occasional applicant may wilfully fudge his or her credentials to get a student visa, it is clear that the two biggest sources of fraud are shady universities and unscrupulous recruitment agents. Students get caught in scams, often not realising how serious the consequences are until it is too late.
For instance, several months ago, Air India offloaded 19 students in Hyderabad, saying the schools they were about to join — Silicon Valley University in San Jose and Northwestern Polytechnic University in Fremont — were under suspicion. In June, a real school, the Western Kentucky University (WKU), found that 40 of the 60 Indian students admitted in the computer science programme did not meet admission requirements. News reports said at least 25 of them would be forced to leave the university and thus faced deportation, because student visas are university-specific. Interestingly, in an aggressive effort to attract Indian students, WKU paid international recruiters based on the number of students they brought in.
The impact of fraud on students and their families can be devastating. Firstly, there’s the psychological sense of failure and regret. Secondly, the lakhs of rupees spent on the application process — coaching fees, application fees, exams such as SAT or GMAT, agent fees, visa and travel costs — are wasted. Lastly, deportation is an indelible blot on your immigration record which can permanently damage your chances of studying or working abroad.
Why do several students get stuck at the port of entry in the U.S.? What is the difference between U.S. Visa and the port of entry?
It is important to understand that your visa authorises you to enter the United States, but does not guarantee entry. The port of entry is where you literally enter a country — for example, Los Angeles International airport or JFK airport. At the port of entry, you still have to clear immigration. Regardless of your visa, if an immigration or security official has reason to believe you are entering the country illegally, or with illegal intentions, they are within their rights to deny you entry.
It is important to understand that even after you enter the country, it is your responsibility as a student to “remain in status”.
This means you must always comply with all the requirements for your visa, such as being registered as a full-time student (generally foreign students in the U.S. cannot be part-time), not doing unauthorised work, ensuring your I-20 form is renewed on time, and so on.
Every university has an office for international students that will guide them.
What are the mistakes students make while choosing a university abroad?
I think the biggest mistake students make is to rely on someone else at the cost of doing their own research to decide where and what they want to study. They should not set too much store by rankings and reputation. Seek help during the admission process, but do not outsource your own responsibility.
Also, do not let money decide for you — just because you can afford a programme does not mean it is right for you. Conversely, if you can’t afford a programme you really want to sign up for, that does not necessarily mean it is not meant for you — seek scholarships, ask questions and do not give up.
What can students do to ensure that their college application and studies proceed without mishaps?
There are many good college search engines available these days. Sessions by Education USA, CampusFrance, DAAD and other agencies can also help students to understand the process of going abroad. Seek out official information by referring to the websites of embassies and high commissions, and the universities you want to apply to. This should be the basic homework, in addition to any information you get from study fairs, university-promoted information sessions, study-abroad agents, and so on. If you are applying for a specialised programme, especially at the postgraduate-level, reach out to the university or professor you are interested in, and ask questions about the programme you are considering. It costs almost nothing.
Basic research skills are necessary to succeed as an international student. Think of the process of applying abroad as a way to polish your research skills. This will help you discover programmes and possibilities that you had not thought of before, and are more likely to find programmes that you are really excited about. And you will become better at detecting fraud when something looks too good to be true.