In the past few days, newspapers have been reporting that a large number of Indian students are being deported from the US. To understand why this is happening, one needs to know the US visa system.
The US government has two departments that are involved in the movement of people from other countries to the US. One is the Justice department and the other is the State department.
The State department operates embassies and consulates in foreign countries. The Justice department, through its unit the Customs and Border Protection, controls all entry points to the US, such as airports, seaports, and roads leading to the United States mainland.
To get a US visa, a student (or a visitor) needs to make an appointment with a US Consulate. During an interview, the visa officer establishes if a student (or a visitor) has the appropriate credentials to enter the US. If the officer is satisfied, he or she will approve the issuance of a visa.
Many students misunderstand the meaning of the word “visa”. They think that it means that they can now enter the US. Wrong.
The US visa on a passport simply means that the student can come up to an entry point, such as an airport, seaport, etc. and ask a CBP officer to allow him/her to enter the US. It is now up to the CBP officer to determine if the student is eligible to enter the US.
So, Why this second check?
The US follows the twin-check entry system. This is because the objectives of the State and Justice departments are different. They also use different yardsticks to establish the credentials of a visitor or a non-immigrant student.
Students generally apply for and receive an F-1 visa. This is a non-immigrant visa. This means that the student is going to the US to study, and then intends to return to his native country, after receiving any necessary practical training.
To establish the non-immigrant nature of the student’s travel, visa officers ask questions, examine documents and make enquiries. Once they are satisfied, a visa is issued.
Deported Indian students wait inside a room awaiting transport to India
At the port of entry, the student with a visa now faces a CBP officer. This officer generally verifies that the student meets the non-immigrant requirements. How can this be verified? The CBP officer usually asks questions, looks for evidence, examines documents and generally conducts an enquiry, all within the matter of a few minutes. This is a stressful time for the visitor. Any fidgeting, nervousness, nail biting etc. can lead to a longer session, in a separate room.
Usually, those who have committed fraud, such as those carrying fraudulent documents, or those whose main intention is not to study but something else, will break down and reveal the truth.
What are some of the questions asked, in such sessions? Usually, they are routine questions. For example, ‘where is your university located?’, ‘How far is it from here?’, ‘What is the tuition fee’?, ‘How many courses do you need to graduate?’ and so on.
A good student, whose intention is to study, will know this information. Not knowing the above information can prove to be costly. If a CBP officer determines that the student is not a legitimate recipient of the F-1 visa, the student can be deported from the United States.
What next after deportation?
Depending on the conditions, the student may be barred from receiving a US visa or coming to the US for five or 10 years.
The student who is to be deported will be detained at the airport or any temporary facility. The airline that brought them in will be asked to take them back. Some airlines are also penalised for bringing such students into the US. And once the airlines detects a pattern, i.e. has identified the universities whose admits were being deported, they resort to a safety measure of not allowing such students to board at all.
What is the lesson one must learn from this? There are several. One, going to the US is only for genuine students. Second, the selection of a university should be done carefully considering costs, time and the reputation of the university. Third, fraudulently entering the US in the garb of a student with the intention of obtaining work informally will expose them to arrest and prosecution. Most often, it is the student who is less than qualified for admission. Some have fraudulently altered mark sheets, as most US universities accept scanned papers.
Other times, consultancies profit from steering students to specific universities, where the curriculum is not standard, or where attendance is not required.
Some US universities act as for-profit organisations, benefitting from full tuition paid by Indians, to subsidise their operations. To a lesser extent, the US consulate is also guilty of processing visas fast, sometimes in interviews lasting less than a minute.
Ultimately, who loses out when things go wrong? It is the student and the parents. They are the buyers of the American dream.
Many years ago, the Bollywood actress Nutan decided to visit her grandchild in the US. At the airport, she was asked why she was coming to the US. Her answer was straightforward. She said, “I expect to spend time with my granddaughter and do some work around the house.”
To which the immigration officer replied, “I am sorry, but you will need a work visa to do any work. You only have a visitor’s visa,” and promptly deported her back to India.
The author, Arvind Acharya, is a management consultant in New York. He can be reached at email@example.com
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