International students in limbo with impending new regulations, students, experts say

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Harvard University image. (Photo harvard.edu)

The Department of Homeland Security recently announced a proposed rule to require a fixed period of stay for international student (F visas), exchange visitors (J visas) and foreign information media representatives (I visas), which could adversely affect American colleges, universities, and students seeking an education in the country.

The Department wants to now grant visas corresponding with the length of the program students enroll for.

According to DHS, the rule is supposed to encourage program compliance, reduce fraud and enhance national security.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime

According to an immigration attorney, it will discourage the cream of the crop students from coming to the country.

Simply put, students pursuing a master’s degree will be granted a 2-year visa, and those getting a PhD will be granted a 4-year one even though the typical time to complete one can be 5-7 years. They can file a stay of extension which could take anywhere from 5 to 10 months to be authorized if not filed timely. The decision of extension which lay with the Designated School Official (DSO) will now be handled by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), making it all the more difficult to get one.

Under the current rules, members of a foreign media organization with I visas typically are admitted for their duration of employment in the United States. In the proposed rule, DHS would replace it with a maximum period of admission of 240 days. I visa holders also be able to apply a stay of extension, to be granted by USCIS, which would be an additional 240 days if filed timely.

Students from nearly 60 countries, a large percentage from India, associated with visa overstay rates greater than 10% for student and exchange visitors, will be limited to up to a two-year fixed period of stay. Additional factors that may trigger a two-year period of authorized stay include the student’s birth or citizenship from a country on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list.

The rule announced in September has drawn more than 24,000 public comments from science and higher education leaders who have highlighted the impacts of limiting immigration of students who want to pursue science-based degrees in the United States, according to the American Immigration Council.

But according to a Senior Administration Official from Homeland Security, “Amending the relevant regulations is critical in improving program oversight mechanisms; preventing foreign adversaries from exploiting the country’s education environment; and properly enforcing and strengthening U.S. immigration laws.”

Some past international students interviewed by Desi Talk/News India Times felt the new rules would complicate things further for those who came to study in the United States.

Shrinal Sheth, a management professional at an international organization in Switzerland was a student at Tufts University in Massachusetts:

The new rules would make an already complex system for international students, more complex. Students from some nationalities will only get a 2-year visa, which would be highly disruptive for any Bachelors, Dual Masters, PhD or Medicine student. It assumes that every student will be able to adapt to a 100% English-speaking university environment with ease. One of my classmates, had to take an intensive English program at his university before beginning his engineering studies. So, under the current rules, he wouldn’t be able to complete his studies in the 2 years that he would be granted visa for. Given that F-1 and J-1 students are actually one of the most tightly regulated visa categories through the SEVIS database, this additional regulation is uncalled for. The message from the current administration seems to be that international students, who are the pillars for the country’s higher education industry and status as an innovation hub, are simply not welcome, unless they accept these onerous requirements and the additional uncertainty.

Shrey Thaker is an Indian-American biochemistry major at Stony Brook University in New York.

The cornerstone of our nation’s goal of diversity and tolerance is a foundational pillar upholding our educational institutions. Many universities across the nations, mine included, banner the school’s enrollment of international students at the forefront of inclusion. Such inclusion is not just limited to color, but more importantly, seeks to establish a culture and community where ideas and thoughts can come from any corner of mankind. Even more than the integration of unique intellectual insight stands the personalities of those who hail from countries I wouldn’t even imagine myself seeing in person. One of peers, a biomedical engineering major, works tremendously hard and is determined to see his goals through, but does so behind the most approachable, likeable, and friendly faces I have yet to encounter in my entire educational career. I would be disappointed and ashamed if this country barred the success of such a kind-hearted aspiring engineer, and by instituting an abridged length of stay for students, the United States would be uprooting its basic principles. It is students like him, and so many countless others, that makes me cherish the role that American universities play as a powerful roundtable for diverse intellect in preparing for a more global-scale society.

Vitasta Vyas, director, Social Media Marketing, Ayurnet Healthcare Pvt Ltd, Ahmedabad, India was a political science major at California State University, Dominguez Hills, California.

Being an international student in the United States has been an exhilarating journey. I came to the states in 2012 for my high school (11th & 12th grade) after which I realized I wanted to study further in the states itself, so I extended my student visa and did my undergraduate studies in political science. I worked for a year after that, and before you know it my time in the United States was done. I was there for 8 years. I maintained my legal status throughout the duration of my stay. Now I just want you to imagine if the new policy takes into action how devastating it would be for students like me who have always wished to study in the United States. This new policy will change how the international students see their future, because there’s always detailed planning when it comes to studying abroad. If this rule is imposed, I know for a fact that students will be discouraged all over the world, it’s a disrespect and DHS should really reconsider the proposed rule.

Pluses And Minuses Of New Rules For International Students

News India Times talked to former Ombudsman of USCIS and now immigration attorney, Prakash Khatri to get his take on the proposed rule:

  1. Was the new proposed rule come as a surprise to you?

Khatri – No, not with this administration. The whole point is they are trying to make things as complicated as they can and the agencies that end up administering these programs end up making tons of money. For example, for employment authorization or I-765 the filing fee is $495. Now, there will be an additional fee of $375 for a stay of extension application. If the new proposal goes through, the biometrics fee will be $85 instead of the current $35.

  1. Do you think this rule will make it difficult for students to complete the courses, especially a PhD?

Khatri – People have taken advantage in the past of the extended stay allotted. So overall, it does make sense to have some kind of a cap or a program-limited cap on how long a person should stay. Obviously with PhDs that do six and seven year programs, that can impact those people that transition from Bachelor’s to Master’s to PhD. I think the key here is being short-term students who come for language or for a masters and then end up being able to take advantage of that extra duration of studies status. That is the real focal point here. Is it practically going to have an impact? I think it is more psychological than practical and more financial than anything else.

There are pluses and minuses here, but it certainly will change the dynamic of the students from this point forward. Students in the past that have had a lot more leeway that will not have it anymore. If you are the regular student, and if you are contending to immigrate at some point that may create problems. For those that come in on temporary status and hope to change it to permanent status will surely face adversity.

  1. How do you think this will affect the country?

Khatri – With the way USCIS processes these petitions and applications from time to time, they can take a lot of time. Right now, approving the EAD application is taking them seven to eight months. So at a time like that, it can impact opt and people who are transitioning from non-work to work categories or changing their status. And so this is not a very good situation. At least they had a good 60 days to stay back after the completion of their course. I think they are going to reduce that to 30. The purpose of these rules originally was for students and for others to tour the country and spend money, and add it to the economy. Well, all of these tourism type activities will now be curtailed by these rules. While they are trying to address one problem, they will end up creating so much more bureaucracy that it defeats the purpose of trying to identify problems in cases such as terrorists or national security risk.

  1. Do you also think this will affect the number of students applying to American educational institutes?

Khatri – Well, the current process has already curtailed the number of students. And with many of them doing online classes many parents are going to be inclined to say ‘If you can do the whole program online then why waste hard earned money and go the US to study?’ Especially when it is safer and just as nice if not better in India.

What we’re doing is we’re going to continue to deplete the number of the best and the brightest coming into this country and instead will be attracting second and third tier students. The first-tier students will be smart enough to see they are better off in their home countries. The country and its universities might get the same amount of students but they are not going to be the best of the best. They will want to fill up seats in any way possible.

China and many of the countries that have now developed to a point where you know the benefit of coming here is minimal. That is where we are seeing a major challenge as we move into the next decade.

  1. The decision to grant a stay of extension resided with the university, but DHS could make it mandatory to for the immigration office to handle it. What do you think about that?

Khatri – That is the major change. In the past, it was the DSO that decided it. One would just have to consult the school official about the extended stay and they would update it in SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System). Until now you just had to convince DSO that why a student was switching majors and or needs an extension for any other genuine matter. Now some third party that is not even an educator is going to get involved in that decision-making. The agency will, at its own discretion, decide to allow you to continue or not.

The point we are missing in this entire technological revolution, is that the agency that is administering and changing these rules is not up to speed on the technological changes that now require modernization of these rules. Instead, they are going backward and are actually creating even more restrictions.

  1. DHS might increase the deadline for the cap-gap extension for H1-B visa filers from October 1 to April 1. Do you think it aids the filers’ goals?

Khatri – I think the authorities are facing a lot of delay in processing the applications. Therefore, this extension is more to facilitate that. It does help filers whose statuses are expiring. Some of the delay is caused by the pandemic but most of this backlog is created by how USCIS processes the applications.

  1. Do you think this new rule will replace the one in place efficiently? Do you think it was necessary?

Khatri- It is hard to say right now. These rules are designed by people who want to restrict immigrants from coming in because they think they’ll take over jobs of the citizens. And that’s not necessarily true but students who come her to study take away spaces from US citizens who could otherwise get into those colleges. So, these kids are supposedly going to benefit in their minds. What they do not realize is that they had this brain drain operation that majorly benefited the nation for generations. They are undoing that which makes no sense.

Khatri is the founder of a law firm, Khatri Law Firm in Bethesda, MD and offers clients services based on his decades of immigration law practice and more than four years of oversight of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

 

 

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