ACE, Other Associations Ask DHS to Withdraw Flawed Duration of Status Proposed Rule
October 26, 2020

​ACE and over 80 other associations today submitted comments to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) expressing strong opposition to a proposed rule which creates a fixed duration of admission of either two years or four years for international students, scholars, and researchers on F or J visas.  Currently international students and scholars are allowed to remain as long as they are enrolled full time in a program of study.

Noting that the proposed rule is based on flawed data and attempts to address problems that don’t exist in the current system overseeing international students and scholars, the associations urge DHS to withdraw it. Instead of moving ahead with the rule, the department should work with higher education institutions to address any issues as needed via the long-established federal Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) that already provides the necessary infrastructure to flag and address issues of noncompliance with immigration laws and regulations, the letter says.

“In addition, DHS and the entire federal government should be doing more to support our international students and scholars during this time of global pandemic and economic uncertainty to ensure that the U.S. can continue to attract international students, scholars, trainees, and researchers and to support and strengthen the U.S. education and research enterprise,” the associations write.

However, 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,” would have a chilling effect on the ability to continue to maintain the United States’ status as the destination of choice for the world’s most talented students and scholars.

Some 1 million international students attend U.S. colleges and universities annually, contributing greatly to this country’s intellectual and cultural vibrancy. They also yield an estimated economic impact of $41 billion and support more than 458,000 jobs across the United States, not just in higher education.

The letter notes that, “The proposed rule itself recognizes that it will drive international students and exchange visitors to go elsewhere: ‘While the intent of the proposed rule is to enhance national security, the elimination of duration of status has the potential to reduce the nonimmigrant student enrollment and exchange visitor participation…As a result, nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors may be incentivized to consider other English-speaking countries for their studies.’ Given the enormous economic impact of losing international students, instead of creating additional complications and barriers, the federal government should be doing more to encourage international students and scholars to study in the U.S.”

Currently, F-1 student visas are granted for the duration of a student’s studies, as long as the student is enrolled in a full-time course of study. The proposed rule would set the authorized admission and extension periods for F visas and J exchange visas not to exceed two or four years, based on the specific program of study. After that initial period, the visa holder would need to apply for an extension of stay, which would be uncertain and granted solely at the discretion of DHS.

Students from countries designated as state sponsors of terrorism—including Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria—or with visa overstay rates over 10 percent would only be eligible for an initial two-year duration of admission. The DHS secretary would also be able to limit duration of admission to two years to broad groups if it is deemed within U.S. “national interest” due to security concerns regarding a student’s field of study or country of origin.  

As ACE Director of Government Relations Sarah Spreitzer told Voice of America, “This is going to have a continuing overall chilling impact for new students who are considering coming to the U.S. to study, who may have the choice to study in one of our competitor countries like Canada, or the UK, or Australia or New Zealand.”

For more information on the proposed rule, see this summary prepared by ACE.

The proposed rule was released Sept. 25, with a 30-day comment period. Earlier this month, ACE and other associations asked DHS to extend the comment period to at least 60 days because “such a brief comment period for a complicated proposed rule is an unreasonably compressed time for affected constituencies to assess, discuss, and meaningfully respond regarding the impact on higher education institutions and our international students.” But DHS maintained today’s deadline for submitting comments, and more than 24,000 comments have been submitted.