Where do Bangladeshi students in the US go now?
In my recent op-eds in Dhaka Tribune on the Covid-19 crisis, I have explained the possibilities of millions of Bangladeshi expatriates losing their jobs and returning home, along with shortages of billions of dollars in foreign remittance.
We are now also challenged with an additional problem -- our brilliant Bangladeshi students that are studying in the US may be returning without completing their education. This is a very different spin on an already difficult and complicated situation due to the coronavirus crisis.
Bangladesh has a high unemployment and underemployment rate and on top of this, millions of people without jobs will be adding a significant amount of pressure on the economy.
Those who are leaving home and family to go thousands of miles to work or study in a foreign country are heroes.
Millions of Bangladeshis that have worked all over the world, sending money to support spouses, children, parents, siblings, and even friends, are the second-highest resources for foreign currency and have helped build Bangladesh.
It is highly anticipated that the Bangladeshi government will be taking extensive actions to repatriate these people in the workforce. On the other hand, the returning of students from the US will have a long-term negative impact on the Bangladeshi skilled workforce.
Those Bangladeshis students going to the US for higher studies go through a grueling selection process to get the visa. They contribute to global research and education to a remarkable level and certainty, helping build Bangladesh’s reputation.
The US Embassy under Ambassador Earl R Miller had increased the visa rewards to Bangladeshi students -- 8249 visas were given in 2019. The student visa requires international students to be actively attending on-campus classes as full-time students.
Due to the closing of on-campus classes, this requirement can’t be fulfilled by the foreign students and it’s not that they have any control over this matter. Many universities in the US are trying to figure out ways to offer enough credit hours to allow the students to maintain the visa status while dealing with the pandemic.
The US administration hasn’t taken any measures to amend the law to protect these students from losing their visa status and preparing for evictions of hundreds of thousands of students -- where many Bangladeshi students will be affected as well.
Many of these students may need to be readmitted to the already overwhelmed higher education systems.
Bangladesh has been building on private universities and here is an opportunity for Bangladeshi governments and educationists to assure these returning students and their parents, help them continue their education, and also offer the highest standards to fulfill the needs of these students.
The government can also recruit foreign professors to teach at Bangladeshi universities. Both the returning expatriate workers and students can become elements for the long-term growth of the country if these issues are dealt with properly.
Those millions of added workers will need to be integrated into the local job market. These workers will have skills and knowledge that can become instrumental to the development of the local infrastructure that the Bangladesh government may be able to utilize.
In the process of accommodating these thousands of students who are usually science and technology majors, Bangladesh may be adding many more universities that can be continually supporting the country’s unfulfilled higher education demands.
Bangladesh has been dealing with shortages of skilled workers -- $4 billion went to India alone in 2018-19 as remittance for their skilled services. Proper strategies should adjust some remittance losses without affecting Bangladeshi industries.
There will be an outcry over immigration restrictions due to this Covid-19 crisis as Bangladesh is one of the most affected countries. How the US is going to apply its immigration law is beyond any control of the Bangladeshi government or the US Embassy in Dhaka.
Many universities in the US such as Harvard, UC Berkeley, and Stanford are demanding halting such immigration policies that were never drafted around a global pandemic scenario.
Not to disdain from demanding students’ rights, but Bangladeshi students studying in the US may be counseled with their respective universities and the Bangladesh Embassy with reasonable plans to avoid any harmful situations.
I request that the Bangladeshi government find solutions for these students as soon as possible and engage in dialogue with the US embassy where, once a legal process is in place, Bangladeshi students are the first in line to be back in the US to fulfill their learning ambitions.
Mazher Mir is the Adviser to Roybi Robots, Mountain View, California, USA.