The U.S. has proposed a new rule for international students that would set student visas to a fixed four-year term.
International students looking to extend their stay would be required to apply for an extension, according to the new rule. The rule would also limit international student visas to a fixed two-year term if students are from a country with a visa overstay rate above 10% or a country on the U.S. State Department’s State Sponsor of Terrorism list.
“This change would provide the Department with additional protections and mechanisms to exercise the oversight necessary to vigorously enforce our nation’s immigration laws, protect the integrity of these nonimmigrant programs, and promptly detect national security concerns,” the new rule states.
Current student visa guidelines allow for students to stay in the U.S. during their “duration of status.’’ In other words, student visa holders can stay in the U.S. as long as they are enrolled in school and follow the rules of their immigration status.
Certain study programs can last longer than four years, let alone two years. For example, a doctorate degree can take four to six years to complete, according to Franklin University.
Student visa holders who request to extend their time may do so “if the additional time needed is due to a compelling academic reason, documented medical illness or medical condition, or circumstance that was beyond the student’s control,” the new rule stated.
Sofia Elkin Becerra, a senior at the University of Maryland and the president of the university’s International Student Union, is from Costa Rica. Becerra said she plans on applying for post completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) when she graduates in December.
She said she required a year of extra study for an undisclosed academic disability and is unclear how the news rules will allow for those circumstances.
“The rule is pretty unclear and confusing that even the international student advisers don't have all the answers for students in my situation,” she said. “So, I’m left uncertain of if or how it will even affect me.”
Had the new rule existed before Becerra began her studies in the U.S., she may not have been able to complete her program under the new fixed time period.
“With a fixed time period, as I understand it, this wouldn't have been as easy to do, and I might not have been able to get through college,” she said.
International students applying to extend their student visas must do so for the sole purpose of completing a course of study, according to the new rule.
Kenji Ho, an international student from Singapore, is a junior studying real estate at New York University’s School of Professional Studies. Ho said he is confused by the timing and reasoning of the new rule.
“It makes everything even more uncertain and confusing in an already unpredictable time for international students,” Ho said.
Ho stated that he believes the new rule could add more academic pressure on international students to finish their studies within four years, or even two years for students coming from select countries.
Requiring students to apply for an extension could lessen their chances of approval, Ho said.
While many education associations and students oppose the changes, some lawmakers have criticized what they say is a laxity in student visa approvals.
Two Republican U.S. senators — Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee — say U.S. universities are used by foreign nations for espionage and to steal intellectual property.
“Beijing exploits student and research visas to steal science, technology, engineering and manufacturing secrets from U.S. academic and research institutions. We've fed China's innovation drought with American ingenuity and taxpayer dollars for too long,” Blackburn said in a joint statement with Cotton in May.
“It's time to secure the U.S. research enterprise against the CCP's economic espionage,” they stated in a press release.
Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, told VOA in May, “We should also be concerned about the rise of anti-Asian sentiment in the U.S.
“China has been the top collaborator with the U.S. in STEM research. As we are grappling with a global pandemic, international collaboration is more critical than ever,” she wrote to VOA in an email.
Another change that would be made is the departure period for student visa holders from 60 days after completing a course of study, to 30 days.
“The Department accordingly is concerned about the integrity of the programs and a potential for increased risk to national security,” stated the new rule.
In the 2018-2019 school year, 1,095,299 international students studied among 19,828,000 total students in institutions of higher education in the U.S., according to the Institute for International Education.
That makes international students 5.5% of all college and university students in the U.S.
While the number of international students in the U.S. has continued to increase, the rate of application and enrollment has declined in the past three years.
International students in the U.S. at colleges and universities contributed $41 billion to the economy and supported 458,290 jobs, according to the latest analysis of NAFSA: Association of International Educators.