Georgetown opposes new DHS rule restricting international student stays

Georgetown University has joined a number of colleges, universities, and higher education organizations in decrying a recent Trump Administration proposal that would limit the amount of time international students and scholars can stay at U.S. institutions and create burdensome extension requirements. Georgetown, which submitted a formal comment to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in opposition to the proposed rule, sponsors about 3,200 international students and scholars on F-1 and J-1 visas from about 120 different countries.

‘Complicated and burdensome’

The proposed rule—which may not be finalized until January 2021—would upend the current student visa standard, which allows students to stay in the U.S. as long as they are enrolled in school and compliant with immigration guidelines. Rather than allowing students to stay for so-called “duration of status,” the new rule would place a fixed term of no more than four years on international students who hold an F or J visa. It also would create an additional burden on students, particularly Ph.D. candidates and undergraduates, who may need more than four years to complete their degree and will need to apply for an extension of stay.

“This proposed rule is set to replace a proven, flexible policy that has served international students and exchange visitors for decades, with one that is both complicated and burdensome,” Esther D. Brimmer, executive director and CEO of NAFSA: Association of International Education, said in a statement, according to Inside Higher Ed. “Sadly, this proposal sends another message to immigrants, and in particular international students and exchange visitors, that their exceptional talent, work ethic, diverse perspectives, and economic contributions are not welcome in the United States.”

International students account for more than 5 percent of all those enrolled in U.S. higher education programs, and the number of new international students has declined steadily in recent years. While DHS said its proposed rule is needed to regulate visa overstays and combat fraud, the proposal targets certain populations of students based on their country of origin. According to Inside Higher Ed, students from countries designated as terrorism hotspots or with visa overstay rates of more than 10 percent are eligible only for two-year visas with the possibility of renewal. These countries include Sudan, Iran, North Korea, and various countries throughout Africa and Asia.

Related: Colleges laud end of directive for international students >

Experts such as Doug Rand, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists and a former immigration policy expert under the Obama Administration, assert that the administration’s intent is clear and “is not a good-faith attempt to better monitor students who present a national security risk or any other legitimate purpose.”

“It’s a totally unnecessary and a massive self-inflicted wound on the United States if it actually goes into effect, which one can reasonably hope it never does,” Rand said. “DHS acknowledges in this proposed rule that plenty of people need more than four years to complete an undergraduate degree, let alone a Ph.D., and they just brush that concern aside.”

‘International students are integral members of our community’

Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia expressed similar concerns about the significant burdens the new rule would place on students and the institutions that support them.

“Georgetown has welcomed students from across the world for more than two centuries, and our international students are integral members of our community,” he shared in a university news statement. “The perspectives that these students and scholars bring to Georgetown enhance the educational experience of our entire community, leading to more globally-minded graduates who go on to serve in disciplines as diverse as the foreign service, medicine, law, the sciences, government and public policy.”

“This proposed rule should be re-evaluated to enable us to sustain and advance the global character of our university and nation,” DeGioia said. 

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