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Policy

Trump proposes student and postdoc visa time limits

Rule would force many students to reapply while working toward their degree

by Andrea Widener
September 28, 2020

US international student and visitor visas by the numbers

1,674,818

Number of active F visas in 2018. F visas are for students.

603,292

Number of active J visas in 2018. J visas are often used by postdocs and other visiting scholars.

Source: US Department of Homeland Security.

International students and postdocs may have to reapply for a visa while working toward their degree, if a rule proposed by the Trump administration is adopted.

Currently, international students and postdocs can stay in the US as long as they need to get their degree or fulfill the requirements of their position. The proposal, published Sept. 25 by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), applies to F visas used by students and J visas often used by postdocs and visiting scientists. It would limit the initial terms of the visas to 2 or 4 years. Students and visitors who need to stay longer would have to apply for an extension. But some people could be limited to their original term if the department finds there are “national security and program integrity concerns,” the proposed rule says.

The DHS says that not capping visa time causes problems with identifying and stopping students who have overstayed their visas. The lack of limits makes it difficult for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to know whether visa holders “are maintaining their status and poses a challenge to the Department’s ability to effectively monitor and oversee these categories of nonimmigrants,” the proposed rule says.

In addition to the time limits, the proposal shrinks the time students can stay after their education or training ends, from 60 days to 30 days, and authorizes collection of biometric data on applicants, as well as adding other new restrictions.

The propose rule is “misguided and ill conceived,” says Miriam Feldblum, executive director of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, which represents around 500 university presidents and chancellors. International students and scholars are already the population ICE knows most about, Feldblum says in a statement. “International students deserve to know that they will be allowed to stay in the United States through their entire academic program.” If the rule is enacted, it will make it harder for US colleges to recruit international students, and it will hurt the country’s reputation abroad, she says.

“Now, more than ever, we cannot afford to turn away talent, devalue diversity, and impede innovation,” Feldblum adds. “And, make no mistake, if the proposed rule is enacted, the negative effects on the United States will be long lasting.”

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