Wednesday, October 28, 2020

DHS proposes 2-year duration of status limit on international student, researcher, journalist visas

September 28, 2020
<p>The International Center pictured on July 7, 2020.</p>

The International Center pictured on July 7, 2020.

Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a proposal last Thursday, which could limit the duration of immigration status of international students, exchange visitors and information media representatives to only two years.

As of now, this remains a proposal and has no immediate effect on international students. The proposed rule is open for public comment until Oct. 25. Comments can be submitted through the Federal eRulemaking Portal found at http://www.regulations.gov.

"As far as I'm concerned right now, this is still in the proposal stage. And with regard to the implementation of departure policy, this is something that is still left unconfirmed because it will have to be in a public open section for another month," International Student Association (ISA) President Tawan Chittawan, who is an international student from Thailand, said.

Currently, students' visas are valid for as long as they are enrolled in their course of study.

Under the proposed rule, F or J nonimmigrants would be admitted into the U.S. for a period up to the end date of their program, limited to four years, unless DHS determines that the nonimmigrant is subject to a shorter period of authorized stay limited to two years, according to a DHS release.

The release said that those coming from countries associated with high visa overstay rates, high being more than 10% for student and exchange visitors, will be limited to up to a two-year fixed period of stay.

The proposal says applications for extensions of stay could be approved if "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."

According to an email from MSU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., the university is actively reviewing the proposal.

MSU will also be submitting a comment letter in opposition to the proposed rule and will work with higher education associations and professional organizations to demonstrate the negative impact of this rule.

"We will say that the spirit of this proposed rule is deeply concerning and a flagrant disregard for the value our international students and scholars bring to American universities and colleges," Stanley said in the email. "The proposed rule adds needless complexity to a system that has worked to bring thousands of bright, motivated international students and scholars to Michigan State over the years—Spartans who have made countless contributions in our shared pursuit of solving global challenges and improving lives across the world."

The main motive of this proposal is to increase oversight of international students and combat fraud and visa overstays.

"This policy, it's very racist and xenophobic, because it's kind of targeting different individuals," Associated Students of Michigan State University ISA Rep. Nikunj Agarwal, an international student from India, said. "You're just playing around with the diversity of the country if you see it in another perspective."

One of the major differences of the proposal is it gives those under the F visa only 30 days to leave the U.S. after completing their programs, instead of the previous 60 days. Chittawan said the application for visas itself won't be too different under the proposal.

Those who are against the proposal believe it's another unnecessary burden to those looking to come to the U.S. to study.

"The current administration is currently docketing international students as a means to play around with and for the elections," Agarwal said. "I think President Trump is doing this to gain a large majority of his votes because white Americans are not competitive, and they feel that international students like me ... do not deserve the opportunities we get."

This isn't the first potential hit at international students this year. In July, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released a regulation that required nonimmigrant students attending a fully online university to leave the U.S., the regulation was removed the following week.

In late July they passed another regulation that required first-year international students to have at least one in-person class to maintain their immigration status. Michigan State's Office of International Students and Scholars, or OISS, has been working with new international students to find them an in-person class and maintain their status, despite the university's switch to remote learning.

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Chittawan has advised his team not to publicly interpret the documents of the proposal as they are still waiting on the clearer picture. ISA is in contact with the OISS, according to their statement.

"I will constantly track this issue very closely," Chittawan said. "And with regard to that, and with regards to the aspects of what international students are facing right now, I can't assure that there is no impact for students as of today or even those who are going to be coming back for spring."

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