The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a proposed rulemaking on September 25, 2020 that would impose new restrictions on international student visas. The proposed changes would require international students to apply for a visa extension after fixed terms of two to four years.
Essentially, an expiration date would be placed on most student visas that previously lasted the duration of a student’s degree program. Most international student visas would expire after four years, while some students, depending on their country of origin, would have to apply for an extension after two years - specifically students born in countries on the State Sponsor of Terrorism List, including Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria. Requests for extensions of stay could be approved “if the additional time needed is due to a compelling academic reason, documented medical illness or medical condition, or circumstance that was beyond the student’s control.” Many in the academic community worry that the limited visa terms could make it challenging for international students to complete graduate and doctoral programs.
According to the Trump administration, these changes are necessary to increase oversight of international students and address visa fraud and overstay issues.
The proposal has received swift pushback from advocates of international students. “This proposed rule is set to replace a proven, flexible policy that has served international students and exchange visitors for decades, with one that is both complicated and burdensome,” said Esther Brimmer, Executive Director and CEO of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, according to Inside Higher Ed. “In a system that is already extremely complex, this rule would undoubtably create a high degree of uncertainty for international students and exchange visitors…Sadly, this proposal sends another message to immigrants, and in particular international students and exchange visitors, that their exceptional talent, work ethic, diverse perspectives, and economic contributions are not welcome in the United States.”
The scientific community is concerned that the new restrictions could weaken scientific research and undermine U.S. global leadership. “Science is international,” said Andrew Rosenberg, Director of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “That’s one reason why our academic setting is so strong.”
The directive was also rebuked by members of the House Science Committee. “The proposed rule from DHS is just the latest attempt by the Trump administration to isolate the United States’ scientific and academic enterprise and lock out the global talent we need to remain a leader on the world stage,” stated House Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and House Science Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight Chairman Bill Foster (D-IL). “This anti-immigrant proposal serves only to antagonize students, particularly those with African and Middle Eastern nationalities, seeking to learn from and contribute to our nation’s science and research institutions.” The lawmakers urged that the 30-day comment period be extended to allow for a serious review and discussion of proposed rule’s impacts.
DHS will be accepting public comments on the proposed rulemaking until October 26, 2020.