AGB Policy Alert: DHS Proposes Rule to Limit Duration of Stay for International Student Visas

By AGB October 6, 2020 March 24th, 2021 AGB Alerts

On Friday, Sept. 25, 2020, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published the proposed rule “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.” The rule would require that international students studying in the United States through an F-1 or J-1 visa be limited to two or four years, depending on a range of factors, including the student’s country of origin. Such a change would likely have a chilling effect on the number of international students willing to enroll in U.S. higher education programs, deeply affecting institutions that welcome large numbers of international students on campus.

Given the potential consequences of this action, institutions that wish to comment on the proposed rule can do so through the Federal eRulemaking Portal here. The comment period closes on Oct. 26, 2020.

What Board Members Need to Know

Currently, international students who are authorized to live in the United States under F-1 and J-1 visas, as well as members of the international media on I visas, are admitted for an unspecified period to participate in activities authorized under their classifications. The proposed rule would set a specific time period that students are allowed to remain in the United States— either two or four years, depending on factors such as the student’s country of origin. A list of affected countries will not be available until the final rule is published, and DHS has the authority to update the list by publishing a new one in the Federal Register. The proposed rule also suggests other criteria to determine how long a particular student remains on a visa, including institutional participation in the E-Verify program and national security determinations. Additionally, whether a student’s country of origin has an “overstay rate” of more than 10 percent will be a factor in determining visa duration.

Students who wish to request an extension to their visas to complete their courses of study would need to demonstrate a reason evaluated by DHS, including “(1) compelling academic reasons; (2) a documented illness or medical condition; and (3) exceptional circumstances beyond the control of the [student].” How often DHS will grant these extensions is unknown, and there are costs associated with requesting the extension of the student and the institution. There is also an impact on recent graduates from American institutions. The proposed rule decreases the time allowed for those who have F visas from 60 days to 30 days upon completion of their studies. This creates greater uncertainty for students who recently graduated from American institutions and are looking for a job within the United States.

Although students from those countries could apply for an extension, this would again create barriers for students and could deter some from completing their degrees at colleges and universities in the United States.

Questions for Board Members

  • How many international students does your institution typically enroll (pre- and post-COVID-19)? How might this proposed rule influence institutional decisions related to the recruitment and retention of international students?
  • How might the proposed changes affect the primary academic programs that educate your international students?
  • Should this rule be implemented, how is the administration prepared to assist students with questions or issues that arise?
  • How will you communicate with faculty, staff, students, families, etc. about the challenges that result from this change?

Why This Issue Is Important

DHS stated the purpose of this proposed rule is to address issues such as national security, fraud, and overstay concerns. While higher education institutions take these issues seriously, it is important to note that these changes could further discourage international students from enrolling in U.S. higher education institutions. Additionally, the policy could discourage current students from finishing their degrees, especially if they are only granted a two-year stay, or if an event occurs that forces them to take longer than four years to complete their degree/academic program.

Currently, more than one million international students are in the United States. Institutions and students greatly benefit from the international exchange of ideas, perspectives, and cultures. International students help to enrich campuses and their local communities by increasing the diversity of the student body. The proposed rule is likely to deter international students from attending institutions in the United States, setting up even more barriers for students who are already confused and feel limited by our current student visa systems. In addition, there will likely be effects on academic programs (e.g., graduate studies) that require more than four years of study. The proposed rule would make it more difficult for graduate and other students to continue with their degree programs because they would need to apply for an extension, with no guarantee that one would be granted.

Ultimately, polls over the past several years have indicated a drop in international enrollment, and that number is continuing to fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The proposed rule would create even more uncertainty for students and institutions and deter greater international enrollment.

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