F-1 visa students beware. It’s a tough new world.

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NEW YORK – It’s the turn of international students in the US to come under scrutiny of the Trump Administration, who have made legal immigration fair game, to cater to their core base.

Through a slew of rules and regulations, aided by executive orders issued by President Trump, a major crackdown by USCIS is coming up which will penalize students who overstay their visa, even because of extenuating circumstances, bar them from entering the US by as much as a decade.

In a policy memorandum, USCIS announced this month that it plans to change how it calculates “unlawful presence” for foreigners in the student visa and exchange program. It will also impose harsher punishments — up to a 10-year ban from the country — for graduates who overstay their visas, reported The New York Times.

The policy, due to take effect in August, has been criticized by higher education institutions and student advocates who say the change shows the indiscriminate nature of the Trump administration’s “America First” policies, the Times noted.

“They say Mr. Trump’s aggressive immigration efforts are shutting out the nation’s leading scholars, who contribute billions of dollars to the economy in the United States, staff its leading research institutions, support its most high-skilled jobs, and contribute to the president’s own goal of strengthening the pipeline to science, technology, mathematics and engineering jobs,” the Times report added.

A critical aspect of the new rules, which will impact target students with a F and M visa, is the government would begin to calculate what is called “unlawful presence” from the date that visa holders’ purpose in the country has expired, such as the end of their studies. Under the current policy, put in place 20 years ago, that calculation started once the government discovered the violation.

Visa holders found to be in the country illegally for more than 180 days would be barred from re-entry for three to 10 years. The current policy usually allows students to go back to their country and apply for a new visa, or update their visa status and return.

The Times report noted that administrators who work with international students worry that they will be punished for life events that domestic students are usually supported through. Many students fall out of status because of extenuating circumstances, such as temporarily dropping below a full course load because of mental health issues, leaving school temporarily for a family emergency or picking up a part-time job to help with family finances.

Doug Rand, who served as assistant director for entrepreneurship at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy from 2010-2017, noted in an analysis for News India Times of the hard hits coming the way of the H-1B and the H-4 visa. According to him, plenty of immigration restrictions targeting immigrant skilled labor have been set into motion after the Trump Administration’s ‘Unified Regulatory Agenda’ last fall, which would effectively nullify prior Obama-era regulations.

After choking the H-1B visa and declaring to end soon the work permit for H-4 visa holders, the Trump Administration is going hard after what they consider is the root of burgeoning skilled workforce from overseas which either threatens to or displaces American workers: international students.

Interestingly, the crackdown on students come on the heels of a report released earlier this month by Pew Research Center which revealed that between 2004 and 2016, nearly 1.5 million foreign graduates of US colleges and universities obtained authorization to remain and work in the U.S. through the federal government’s Optional Practical Training program. More than half (53%) of the foreign graduates approved for employment specialized in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

Right wing immigration hawks have been quick to pounce on the report.

Joe Guzzardi, a syndicated columnist, wrote this week: “The F-1/OPT now joins the ranks of the most abused visas and employment-based frauds that shut deserving Americans out of the labor market,” adding, “…Developed decades ago, the original concept was that foreign students would gain U.S. work experience for a year, and then take their newly acquired skills and knowledge back to their underdeveloped home nations to help those countries advance. Not until George W. Bush’s administration did the program devolve into a guest worker scam to boost corporate profits.”

The Trump Administration may have taken notice of the recent dip in international students, but they don’t seem to care, at least for now. The hit is being taken by universities.

Quartz noted that the US has lost its appeal to international students. The US issued visas to less than 400,000 international students in fiscal year 2017. That’s a 17% decline from 2016, and a 40% drop from 2015.

However detrimental some of the rules may seem to be for legal immigrants who plan to become permanent residents, the Trump Administration must be applauded for trying to close loopholes in several of the work and student visa rules, which were in the past being exploited by unscrupulous employers, and universities with a poor track record.

The US economy is chugging along fine right now. However, there will be another recession. Hiring will come to a standstill. The new rules by the Trump Administration won’t look too bad then, on hindsight.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: sujeet@newsindiatimes.com Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)

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