Homeland Security Withdraws Proposed Rules Affecting International Students

Published: July 8, 2021

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced the withdrawal of proposed new rules that would have limited the time that individuals entering the U.S., including international students, could remain in the country, absent the issuance of a new visa. The proposed rules, which were published on September 25, 2020, had been the subject of significant concern by many higher education leaders due to their potential impact upon international student retention.

Under the current rules, international students approved for an F or J category entry visa are allowed to remain in the country for an unspecified period, so long as they continue to be enrolled in coursework leading to their degree or research activity. This so-called “duration of status” policy would have been replaced by fixed terms of up to four years, under the proposed changes.

The new rules would have required a reapplication and renewal of the visa status of the student at the expiration of the term for studies to be continued. Further, in the case of countries whose students have higher visa overstay rates, the proposed rule would have limited initial student visa terms to two years.

In a letter voicing opposition to the proposed changes, the American Council on Education (“ACE”) argued that the imposition of limitations on visa duration for international students would significantly impede the educational process. As the ACE letter noted, the average time for an international student to complete a B.A. degree is slightly more than 4.5 years, and almost six years to complete a Master’s/Ph.D. program. It further concluded that the proposed rules would be “largely unworkable for the majority of students.”

The announcement of the withdrawal of the proposed rules represents a positive step for colleges and universities seeking to attract international students. It reinforces the existing student visa regime and produces a more stable environment for applicants. Yet, the announcement of the withdrawal of the proposed rules came with the acknowledgement that other changes may be necessary “to protect the integrity of programs that admit nonimmigrants in the F, J and I classifications.” Accordingly, a new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking related to the rules regarding these specific visa categories could be forthcoming.

If your institution needs assistance with issues related to the status of international students, contact the Steptoe & Johnson Higher Education Team.

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