President Donald Trump Administration proposed a new set of rules that would alter student visas. If the rule passes, it will be the biggest change to international student regulation in almost 20 years.
According to Inside Higher Ed, under new student visa proposed rules, The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is looking to set a maximum of four years for student visas with the possibility for international students to apply for an extension of stay in specific cases, such as medical illness or “compelling” academic reasons. This new proposal will change the current student visa, which is good for “duration of status” meaning that students can stay in the U.S. indefinitely as long as they remain enrolled in school and don’t violate the terms of their immigration status. Consequently, the fixed four-year term would force many students to apply for an extension of stay mid program as it is shorter than the time a lot of students take to finish their bachelor's program as well as the length of a typical Ph.D program.
The Trump administration says the proposed rule is necessary to increase oversight of international students and combat fraud and visa overstays. However, the economic impact of this new set of rules will be detrimental since international students make up roughly 5% of students at American universities and colleges, and their economic impact is staggering. According to NAFSA, the association of international educators, 1 million international students contributed $41 billion to the U.S. economy in the 2018-19 academic year.
Furthermore, in a more targeted move, the rule also limits visa terms to two years to certain categories of students based on their country of origin. Specifically students born in countries designated as sponsors of terrorism (Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria) as well as citizens of countries with overstay rates of more than 10% for student and exchange visitor visas. It’s a restriction that disproportionately impacts African students and to a lesser degree Asian students. Africa accounts for 36 of the 59 countries affected by the DHS’ proposals.
Among other changes, the proposed rule would also limit the time students could spend in English language training to no more than two years over a lifetime and impose limits on the number of times students can change programs at the same degree level or move to a program at a lower degree level. The rule change would also reduce the time international students can stay in the U.S. after completing their course of study or authorized work program from 60 to 30 days.
The uncertain future has shaken many international students, as they mention that their contributions go beyond the economy. Dev Purandare is a doctoral computer science student at the University of California-Santa Cruz, who came to the USA from India four years ago. Over the course of his career, he’s been a teaching assistant, taught courses, and right now mentors undergraduate and graduate students.
“It’s demoralizing to international students to have to face a new crisis every month and wonder if we’ll be able to continue what we’re doing,” he said. “The lack of stability is really harmful for productivity. I can’t make any sort of life plans. I can’t even get a cat – because what if I have to leave the next day or the next week?” (Dev Purandare, USA TODAY)
Advocates for international students say the proposed rule creates unnecessary new burdens for international students and makes the U.S. a less welcoming destination at a time when international student enrollment has already been declining.
However, Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law practice at Cornell University, said the proposed rule may not be finalized before Jan. 20 and could be withdrawn if there is a change in presidential administration.
Sources: INSIDE HIGHER ED