Trump Administration Seeks to Restrict Student Visas to a Strict Two- or Four-Year Timeframe
September 28, 2020

In the latest move targeting international student and exchange visas, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Friday published the long-awaited proposed rule on “duration of status” that would create a fixed amount of time of authorized stay for students on F and J visas and members of the international media on I visas.

As justification, the Trump administration says the rule would make these visas more consistent with other visa categories and allow DHS more opportunities to review whether holders are complying with the conditions of their visas.

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-1 exchange visas not to exceed two or four years, based on the specific program of study. The time period could also be limited to two years based on overstay rates of the visa holder’s country of origin or because of national security concerns. 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 two-year visas, although they could apply for an extension.

As Inside Higher Ed said Friday, the restriction based on countrywide visa overstay rates would disproportionately effect students from Africa and, to a lesser degree, parts of Asia. Vox does the math and says it would impact students in 59 countries.

Brad Farnsworth, ACE’s vice president of global engagement, told The Wall Street Journal that he fears the new rules would give the government more opportunities to deny visas to Chinese students, who make up about a third of the overall international student population, given the rapidly deteriorating relationship between the U.S. and China.

“I see openings in this document, if you wanted to discriminate against students and not renew their visas, where you could certainly do that,” he said.

Among the other provisions, the rule would:

  • Transition all current F, J, and I visas to a two year or four year period, based on the date of admission and the program end date noted on the most recent 1-20 or DS-2019;
  • create a new extension process for F, J, and I visas;
  • decrease from 60 to 30 days the allowed period for F aliens to depart from the United States after completion of study, and
  • limit language training students to an aggregate 24 month period of stay (including breaks and vacations).

“If you've decided to invest in a four-year degree and for some reason you switch your major ... or do something else that slows down your progress to degree, how certain are you ... [that DHS] is going to grant the extension for you to finish,” Sarah Spreitzer, director of government relations for ACE, told Education Dive.

ACE will be working with the higher education community to draft and submit comments. As of Sept. 28, over 10,000 comments had already been uploaded to the Federal Register. ​