Foreign students may have to reapply to stay in US each year
The controversial plan by DHS would mean more time and money by students from China and India, who make up the bulk of foreign students in the country. Source: Shutterstock

A new government proposal may require international students to annually reapply for their permission to stay in the United States after a specific end date associated with their programme has passed, according to information given to The Washington Post by two federal officials with direct knowledge.

The controversial plan by senior officials at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would mean more time and money by students from China and India, who make up the bulk of foreign students in the country. The aim of the plan? National security.

“DHS is exploring a variety of measures that would ensure our immigration programmes – including programmes for international students studying in the US – operate in a manner that promotes the national interest, enhances national security and public safety and ensures the integrity of our immigration system,” DHS spokesman David Lapan said.

Chinese students are the biggest cohort of international students in the US. Source: Reuters

Lapan declined to provide additional comment on the details.

The plan is in the preliminary stages and it will take at least 18 months more to put in place the necessary regulatory changes. Agreement from the State Department would also be required.

The State Department is tasked with issuing visas to foreign students, but the DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency monitors them via its Student and Exchange Visitor Program which coordinates with higher education institutions to report on the foreign students attending their schools.

Under the programme, students have to pay a one-time fee of US$200. If the proposal falls through, that could mean the fee will be charged each year.

In a statement to Inside Higher EdJill Welch, NAFSA: Association of International Educators’ deputy executive director for public policy called the plan “duplicative” and “unnecessary”, adding it would harm the country’s competitiveness and bring “grave consequence to its national security, foreign policy and economic interests, as well as America’s scientific and innovative strength.”

“Generations of foreign policy leaders agree international students are an asset to our nation, not a threat. They benefit our communities and our campuses and remain the only actively monitored foreign population in the US,” Welch said.

“We urge the Department of Homeland Security to consult carefully with stakeholders like NAFSA who have worked for decades to protect our security and increase our economic prosperity before making any rash decisions that can have potentially irreversible consequences.”

More than a million international students were enrolled in US colleges and universities during 2015-16, according to data from the Institute of International Education.

While students overstay at a rate higher than tourists or business travellers, they make up a smaller number (42,000) compared to business travellers, for which more than half a million (553,000) flouted their visa deadline.

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