The Honorable Chad F. Wolf
Acting Secretary of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
3801 Nebraska Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20528
Ms. Sharon Hageman
Acting Regulatory Unit Chief, Office of Policy and Planning
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
500 12th Street SW
Washington, DC 20536
RE: Establishing a Fixed Time Period of Admission and an Extension of Stay Procedure for Nonimmigrant Academic Students, Exchange Visitors, and Representatives of Foreign Information Media (DHS Docket No. ICEB-2019-0006)
Dear Acting Secretary Wolf and Acting Regulatory Unit Chief Hageman,
The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) appreciates the opportunity to submit comments to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in response to the notice of proposed rulemaking published in the Federal Register on September 25, 2020, titled Establishing a Fixed Time Period of Admission and an Extension of Stay Procedure for Nonimmigrant Academic Students, Exchange Visitors, and Representatives of Foreign Information Media (DHS Docket No. ICEB-2019-0006). We are deeply concerned by this proposal to impose complicated new visa restrictions on international students and urge that the proposed rule be withdrawn in its entirety.
The American Institute of Biological Sciences is a non-profit scientific society dedicated to increasing our understanding of all life. We work with our members and other partners to promote informed decision-making that advances the biological sciences for the benefit of science and society. Our more than 100 organizational members collectively represent more than 100,000 scientists, science educators, and students.
The United States has long welcomed international students. Our ability to attract and retain talented students from around the world is key to ensuring U.S. global competitiveness and leadership in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM). International students contribute significantly to the United States, including our economic development. Foreign students are not a drain on our economy or our educational institutions. In fact, undergraduate, graduate, and professional international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities contributed $41 billion to the U.S. economy and supported more than 458,000 jobs in the 2018-19 academic year. These benefits are enjoyed by communities across the nation - from rural college towns to our urban centers.
The proposed rule would establish fixed terms of two to four years for international students and exchange visitors to complete their degrees and research. The average Ph.D. student can take six to eight years to complete their degree, while the average time to earn a bachelor’s degree is about 4.5 years. Placing an arbitrary expiration date on student visas that previously lasted the duration of the degree program could limit the ability of international students to change their majors, explore programs outside their majors, or extend their education. The new rule would force students to reapply during their course of study, leading to delays in degree completion.
The new requirements would also increase the burden on our immigration system. International students and visiting scholars are already carefully vetted and monitored through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Replacing a proven and flexible policy with one that is complicated, duplicative, and burdensome will create additional costs, lead to unnecessary delays, and put students at risk of accruing unlawful presence.
If finalized, this rule would unnecessarily create uncertainty for many international students and exchange visitors about their ability to maintain their legal status in the United States during the course of their studies or program. This policy undermines our ability to recruit the best STEMM students who may instead choose to study in China or Europe. Instead of creating additional complications and barriers, the federal government should be encouraging international students to study in the U.S.
We strongly urge you to withdraw this flawed and unwarranted proposed rule. At a minimum, we request that the public comment period be extended by 30 days to allow for a more comprehensive and thoughtful consideration of the proposed changes. Please do not hesitate to contact us if AIBS can be of further assistance.
 NAFSA, International Student Economic Value Tool.