Proposed Rule Will Make U.S. Less Attractive to International Students

The administration continues its assault on legal immigration, this time through a proposed regulation issued on September 25, 2020 that would impose strict time limits on the duration that foreign students or “exchange visitors”, and international journalists are allowed to stay in the U.S.  Comments on the proposed rule are due by October 26, 2020.

For decades, international students and exchange visitors have been admitted for “duration of status.”  As long as they were complying with the terms of their visas, they could remain for the duration of their programs.   For example, an international student initially admitted to pursue a bachelor’s degree, who decides to continue on to get a master’s degree, and then to get doctorate, would remain in status for the entire time.  International journalists would remain in status for as long as their employment with the media outlet sending them to the U.S. lasts.

The proposed rule would  instead impose fixed time limits  so that, in the prior example, the foreign student coming to the U.S. for a bachelor’s degree would be limited to four years.  If the student decided to continue on to get a masters degree, the student would need to apply for an extension of stay, and would have to do so again to pursue her doctorate.  The rule would also limit the stays of foreign students from dozens of countries to only two years, even if the expected length of their program is four years. Countries subject to these stricter limits include Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria, and also more than fifty countries whose international students or exchange visitors purportedly have “overstay” rates higher than 10 percent.   An independent analysis however, has found that the rule’s cited data on the overstays is inflated.

The proposed rule would also reduce the grace period that international students have after completion of their studies from 60 to only 30 days, making it harder for them to timely extend or change their visa status.

This rule will likely make the U.S. a less attractive destination for international students, who make up the majority of graduate students in the U.S. in STEM fields.  As a recent analysis points out, the proposed rule will not only increase the costs (and the paperwork involved) for international students, but by the administration’s own estimates, it will also add over 360,000 extension applications to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ workload annually, adding to processing backlogs and creating uncertainty and delays for students.

This regulation is being proposed after a federal court enjoined the administration’s attempt through a policy revision to make it easier for foreign students to fall out of status, which would have then delayed or made it impossible in some cases for them to continue further studies or to change status or gain permanent residency through work for a petitioning employer.

International students not only add diversity to the student bodies of U.S. colleges and universities at the undergraduate and graduate levels, but they comprise a critical component of the U.S.’s future workforce.   As the Business Roundtable said in a 2019 report, “International students are a key source of talent for companies in advanced Western economies.”

International students also provide a huge boost to the economy during their studies.   In the 2018-2019 academic year alone, international students contributed over $41 billion to the U.S. economy and  supported more than 458,000 jobs.  In Maine, they contributed over $51 million, and supported 421 jobs.

You can read a brief summary of the proposed rule’s changes here.  A full analysis of the impact of the proposed rule, and the flaws in the data on which the proposed changes are based, can be found here.

The U.S. has already experienced three years in a row of declining international student enrollments, while Canada has seen double digit increases during the same period.  In the global competition for international students and their talent, this new rule would put the U.S. at a further disadvantage.  MeBIC will be commenting to oppose this proposed rule.