The Trump administration, via the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has proposed new rules that would add numerous new restrictions and requirements for international students seeking to obtain a visa to study in the United States.
The biggest change in the new rule is the imposition of a fixed time limit on student visas of only four years; the current visa rule for postsecondary students allows students to remain in the U.S. as long as they are enrolled in school and abide by other relevant visa conditions. After the new fixed visa time period has expired, the proposed rule would require students to apply to extend their stay in the U.S. for additional studies and dictates that extensions would only be approved 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.”
If they take effect as proposed, the regulations would essentially guarantee that all students seeking to do graduate work beyond their baccalaureate program would have to apply for visa extensions, as would any student who requires longer than four years to finish their first degree program.
The proposed rule would place additional restrictions on visas for students based in their home country. Applicants from countries that have been designated by the U.S. as having “state sponsors of terrorism” would only be eligible for two-year visas initially, with visa renewal requirements imposed after that. The same two-year restriction would apply to students from countries with student and exchange visitor visa overstay rates that exceed 10 percent per the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) overstay data.
Another concerning proposal in the rule would permit DHS to gauge “a pattern of behavior demonstrating a student is repeatedly unable or unwilling to complete his or her course of study, such as failing grades, in addition to academic probation or suspension,” which would deem them ineligible to receive a visa extension. Such determinations of student success or problematic behavior have previously been the exclusive purview of academic administrators.
Further rule changes include a limit on the number of times a student could change degree programs, a reduction in the time students could stay in the U.S. after completing their studies from 60 to 30 days, and a two-year lifetime limit on the amount of time students can spend in English language training programs.
While the Trump administration has argued that the proposed rule is necessary to combat fraud and visa overstays by international students, many higher education advocates have criticized the proposed rule as an unnecessary burden that will have an additional chilling effect on international student enrollment, which has been declining significantly at schools throughout the U.S.
The proposed rule is currently open for a 30-day public comment period.