ACE, Associations Call for “Sensible Steps” to Improve the Student Visa Process
July 17, 2019

​Noting that more than 1 million international students attend U.S. colleges and universities and contribute to the nation’s economic strength and intellectual and cultural vibrancy, ACE is asking the Trump administration to improve the visa processing times for these students.

In advance of Tuesday’s hearing on “Policy Changes and Processing Delays at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services” in the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, ACE and five other associations sent a letter to subcommittee leaders noting the historic drop in international student enrollment over the past two years at American colleges and universities.

“We believe a core problem is the lack of predictability that surrounds the visa process for prospective and current international students and employers,” said ACE President Ted Mitchell in the July 15 letter. “Students need assurance that the rules will not suddenly change so they can make plans. Employers also need certainty so they can engage in appropriate workforce planning. The current lack of clarity makes it more challenging for schools to globally compete for international students and advise them about training and employment opportunities.”

As Inside Higher Ed reported last month, institutions are seeing increases in processing times for international students applying for work authorization through the Optional Practical Training program, which allows international students to work in the United States for up to a year after graduating in a job related to their field of study. These delays have left some students with job or internship offers unable to start their positions on time.

The ACE letter states that there are “sensible steps the (Trump) administration can take to communicate predictability and ensure that our nation can continue to compete successfully for top international talent.” It adds that, “We do not seek to undermine a full vetting of a prospective student to protect legitimate U.S. security interests. Rather we ask only that the administration commit to doing this more expeditiously.”

One recommendation made in the letter was for the administration to publicly commit to maintain premium processing “without the service interruptions that have characterized this essential option in the past.” Another was for the administration to reconvene public meetings of the Homeland Academic Advisory Council, which gathers higher education leadership and representatives from the departments of Homeland Security and State.

While the hearing didn’t focus on how the delays impacted higher education, Subcommittee Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) noted the impacts on other sectors, including businesses waiting to hire highly skilled workers, many of whom have graduated from U.S. colleges.  

Witnesses from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency attributed the delays to a surge of applications and the continuing renewal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) registrations.  Although President Trump ended DACA in 2017, federal courts have mandated that the government must continue to renew DACA registrations for the time being.  

In addition to ACE, the following associations signed the letter: American Association of Community Colleges; American Association of State Colleges and Universities; Association of American Universities; Association of Public and Land-grant Universities; and National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

Some individual institutions, including most recently Harvard University​, also have expressed concerns about student visa delays and other issues related to international students.