When Abhilash, a 22-year-old Hyderabadi student landed at the John F Kennedy airport in New York around 6 pm on January 8, he was excited as this was the beginning of a cherished dream to pursue his Masters on foreign soil. But little did Abhilash know about the horror that awaited him.
This Civil Engineer from Chaitanya Bharathi Institute of Technology (CBIT) Hyderabad, had secured admission to pursue Masters in Environmental Engineering at the University of New Haven, Connecticut. He was part of a 16-member student contingent from Hyderabad, of which 10 students had secured admissions at the New Haven University, while 6 others were going to universities in Chicago.
Abhilash says, ''We are a family of four, my parents and brother are working professionals. Since they could afford my education, my dad suggested I should go to America for higher studies. I agreed to my father and started preparing for the entrance like all the US aspirants do. Like others, even I took around eight months to clear everything and after that I was all set to fly to University of New Haven, Connecticut.''
“With great anticipation, I started from Hyderabad at 4:40 pm on January 7. Though I was looking forward to the trip, I was also a little sad as this was the first time I was leaving home. I was kind of homesick already.''
Finally, after a long journey of around 24 hours, Abhilash landed in Connecticut around 6 pm. Signs of trouble first appeared when an immigration officer stopped the students for interrogation at the airport.
Abhilash says, "I was kept waiting for six hours in the immigrants cell. Then I saw an airhostess from Air India coming with a return boarding pass for me. I was wondering without any interview, how could they send my return boarding pass?”
''After waiting for six hours, they finally called me for an interview which lasted for around two hours. I felt even the interview was pre-arranged as we were being rejected without any valid reason. In spite of carrying all the documents, I was rejected by them.''
Abhilash was also feeling very hungry and thirsty as the group was not allowed to step out of the cell and kept in confinement. He felt so helpless as he wanted to call his parents but their cell phones were seized along with their passports. He claims that they were handcuffed too.
He adds, “This was the worst experience ever in my life, as they were very rude to all of us. It was very embarrassing as there were many Indians at the airport. After waiting impatiently for a few hours, finally I got a chance to call my parents, that too for a few seconds. I informed them and the authorities again seized my phone.”
“I was feeling helpless. I was so embarrassed that I felt like dying. After signing a bond, they left us and when I boarded my return flight, I was even praying that this flight should crash as I lost all hope.”
He adds that as soon as he reached the Delhi airport, he immediately called his father. His parents rushed to the airport to receive him but had to wait for eight hours to meet him as he was held up by some paperwork.
“I landed around 8:30 pm in Hyderabad on January 10 but my family who had reached at 6 pm was able to meet me only around 3:10 am the next day after completing all the formalities.”
He added that Telangana Deputy CM Mehmood Ali, who was coincidentally at the airport at that time after returning from a trip, took up the matter after which Abhilash and the other students were allowed to leave.
“Even at the Hyderabad airport, Air India officials made me sign a bond. I was so irritated that I didn’t even ask the reason for the bond. I just signed and left with my parents.”
A thoroughly despondent Abhilash avers that he will never ever go back to the US even if he were offered a Visitor’s Visa in his dreams. His parents are really thankful that he has returned safely, and they have left the choice to him whether he wants to go back to the US or not.
When asked about the reason for this issue, he said the reason must be the Americans ego towards Indians and also our Indian Embassy is not that powerful as theirs. The employees at the Indian Embassy are only drawing their salaries, which would be in lakhs. We were 18 of us and all from Hyderabad. I somehow felt that they had some grudge against people from Hyderabad, Abhilash signs off.
The students have written to the New Haven University about their ordeal but have not received any response yet.
This is not an isolated incident as the process of deportation of Indian students continues despite India making a strong plea to the US to honour their visas.
On December 27, 20 students from Hyderabad who travelled to the US for higher education were deported from Chicago, after US immigration officials revoked their F1 visas.
In the week prior, 14 Indian students who traveled to the US were deported after being allegedly detained and questioned for 14-15 hours in San Francisco, while another 19 students were stopped by Air India in Hyderabad.
Both groups were heading to the Silicon Valley University at San Jose and North Western Polytechnic College in California.
The US authorities claimed that the two universities were blacklisted while the universities denied it.
The Indian government had then said that it had 'strongly' taken up the issue with foreign affairs minister Sushma Swaraj saying that India was awaiting a response from the US state department over the issue.
The minister also said that the list of all universities blacklisted by the US will be announced soon and that India has already asked for the list from officials concerned.
“According to the US government, the deported persons had presented information to the border patrol agent which was inconsistent with their visa status,” the Indian government had said in a statement on December 30.
The government also issued an advisory saying, “Meanwhile, it is reiterated that all Indian students seeking admission in US educational institutions should do due diligence to ensure that the institutions to which they are seeking admission have proper authorisation and capacities.”
Education consultants on the other hand are of the opinion that in the wake of the recent spate of incidents involving Indian students being deported from the US despite possessing valid visas, they can take legal recourse by challenging the denial of entry on the grounds of natural justice and human rights violation.
“There is a legal option to be explored and genuine students can question their deportation,” according to Nishidhar Borra of Storm Consultancy.