Hyderabad: Many city students who were deported from the US while on their way to Silicon Valley University and North Western Polytechnic University in California have their Facebook and social media posts to blame.
According to a source at the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport, these students were asked by the US immigration and homeland security officials to open their Facebook and social media pages.
The officials checked their conversations with their parents, friends, US admission consultants and University officials. In these posts, the students had openly confessed to their plans. “I want to take up a job,” said one. “University officials allowed me to do jobs outside while studying,” wrote another. “University officials promised me to give attendance exemption if I pay,” said a student according to the source. “Classes will be online and I can work elsewhere,” wrote a student.
The source said that after going through these posts, the US officials felt that they were ‘non-serious students’ who had come to earn money.
The official at RGIA said, “Nearly 150 students who faced deportation in the US have arrived in Hyderabad during the past four days. Of them, about 70 students told us that they were caught based on their social media posts. In some cases, even WhatsApp messages on their mobile phones were checked.”
As per the directives of the Centre, all airlines allowed students to travel to the US irrespective of which university they had opted for, provide they had a two-way ticket. An airline official said students normally, travel to the US with a one-way ticket. If such a student is deported, the airline has to arrange the ticket for his return.
“While the one-way ticket to the US normally costs Rs 80,000, we have to purchase the same ticket on the spot for double the amount. Besides, the airline will be penalised $10,000 per student for allowing such students to travel. We are allowing such students to travel to the US provided they purchase a return ticket as per Centre’s directive,” the official said.
Vijayawada native B. Sai Teja, who was deported from the US, said, “The immigration officials took my mobile phone and checked my WhatsApp messages. They also asked me to open my E-mail account and checked the messages. Some other students who were with with me were asked to open their Facebook page accounts and officials verified the groups and comments posted by them.” Mohd Ashraf, who was deported from Abu Dhabi while on his way to the US, said, “There were three screening levels. While the first one pertained to verification of passport, visa and other documents, the second and third levels were to inspect WhatsApp, messages in mobile phones and Facebook and social media pages."
Some students who were headed for the Silicon Valley University and North Western Polytechnic University are now seeking admission in other universities in the US. They are requesting the US education consultants to process their applications for other US universities.
Students try other US airports
With many US-bound students sent back to India from the Abu Dhabi International airport, several students are taking alternate routes to fly to the US.
One such student has booked a ticket on British Airways and he will face immigration at Los Angeles. “We can be stopped at any immigration centre by US authorities, but why take a chance when we know that more than 50 students have been deported from Abu Dhabi? We will take our chances at other immigration centres because we are going to genuine universities; and now it is established that Silicon Valley University is not blacklisted. I have all the required documents and am confident of clearing the US immigration check,” said Md Azeem (name changed on request).
Azeem was stopped from boarding an Etihad flight stating that the airline management had received an advisory from the US that students bound for Silicon Valley University should not be allowed to fly to US.
“Though Etihad has said it will cut 20 to 30 per cent as cancellation charges, I am willing to forego the amount and have booked a flight on another airline,” he said.
But it took some time for the students to decide to fly other routes. “We were disturbed after being stopped by airlines from boarding the flight to US. Even our parents were worried as we were going through a depressed phase. Now we have mustered our courage because some of our friends have cleared immigration at Los Ohio, Chicago and Virginia. They have reached their colleges,” said N. Abhay (name changed on request).
While many of Azeem and Abhay’s friends have also changed routes to fly to US, there are a few others who still prefer to go via Abu Dhabi. “Why should we fear when our purpose of visit is genuinely education and all our documentation is proper? I will not change my route and airliner. I am paying an extra 20 per cent to Etihad because the management has agreed to book my ticket at a later date and fly me to the US by the month-end,” said Sameer K. (name changed).
Meanwhile, students who were deported from Abu Dhabi with “cancelled” stamped on their visas are planning to march to the US embassy in Hyderabad, seeking a solution to pursue their educational career in US.
Mohammad Ashraf and others who were sent back from Abu Dhabi through Etihad Airways are planning to meet US embassy officials to seek a solution. “Our educational career is at stake for no fault of us. The US embassy authorities should provide us with a solution,” Ashraf said.
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