Air India, the official carrier of India, stopped 19 Indian students from boarding its flight in Hyderabad to San Francisco last week after being informed by US authorities that the two universities to which they had been admitted were under “scrutiny”. Air India said the move was aimed at preventing the students from being “inconvenienced”.
A statement issued by the national carrier cited the plight of 14 students who had earlier travelled on Air India flights to San Francisco to the same universities but were deported. Deepak, one of the 14 deported students, said they had all been issued valid visas following a clearance by the US Department of Homeland Security. “If the universities were blacklisted, why did they issue us the visa,” he wondered. “We were treated like criminals and sent back,” said another student who had been deported by US authorities.
Air India said it received word on December 19, 2015 from the US Customs and Border Protection agency that two universities, Silicon Valley in San Jose, California and North Western Polytechnic College in Fremont, California are under scrutiny. The communication from the agency further stated that students who arrived into San Francisco were not allowed to enter the US and were deported back to India, Air India said.
“In the past, we have witnessed that students who secured admission in those institutions have been deported to India as soon as they land there. To avoid embarrassment to them and save their money, we prevented them from boarding the flight,” an Air India official in Hyderabad said.
“Students travel on a one-way ticket to the US and, in the event of deportation, incur huge expenditure to buy a ticket back to India on first available service. Further, seats are often not available on any airlines to travel back,” the Air India statement said.
“Considering the situation, as a precautionary measure and to avoid inconvenience, students booked for travel to take admission to these universities are not being accepted on Air India flights,” the statement said.
The national carrier, which did not allow the 19 students to board the flight at Hyderabad’s Rajiv Gandhi International Airport, has decided not to accept students headed to these universities till the time it got clearance from Air India’s US office for their travel.
Air India has offered a full refund and waived all charges such as cancellation and rescheduling fee. The airline said it will start accepting students travelling to join these universities, at no additional cost, as soon as clearance is received from Air India’s US office.
US Consulate officials in Hyderabad said they are trying to get more information on the situation. “We are indeed aware of the reports that some students were denied entry on the flights to the US. At this time, we don’t have any further information to share with you on this particular issue, but we are seeking clarity on the situation.
When contacted, an immigration official at the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport said his department had nothing to do with the students not being allowed to board the flight. “The students were not issued boarding passes. It is the airline’s responsibility to clear passengers. We have nothing to do with the issue,” he said. In the meanwhile, one of the universities in question said on its website that “absolutely false” reports are being disseminated by certain media outlets and other groups that the institute has been blacklisted by the US government.