US proposes two and four-year limits on visas for international students
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/AFP

The Trump administration has proposed a new rule that would limit the length of stay of international students in the US. Depending on the nationality of students, their visas could expire after four or two years of being issued. In a statement, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said the new rule requires a fixed period of stay for international students, exchange visitors and foreign media representatives “to encourage programme compliance, reduce fraud and enhance national security”.

Under the proposal, student visas would not exceed four years, deviating from its current practice of allowing student visas to remain valid as long as they are still in school. This could affect students in doctoral programmes that tend to last over four years or those who need more time to complete their degree. 

The DHS said those from countries associated with high visa overstay rates (rates greater than 10% for student and exchange visitors) will be limited to up to a two-year fixed period of stay to increase monitoring, deter immigration violations and incentivise timely departure. Students from Iran, North Korea, Syria or Sudan — or countries on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list — would also face a two-year limit. 

The Trump administration argues that the policy is necessary because under the status quo students can remain in the US as long as they have documents showing that they are continuing to study toward their degree, an undetermined length of time that it says poses national security risks, reported The Wall Street Journal.

The department’s communication cites as an example one student who has remained in the US on a student visa since 1991 to attend a dance school, but did not specify how many students have used student visas in similar ways, said the report. 

More anxiety for international students in the US?

international students in the US

The new proposal would hit doctoral students especially hard. Source: Scott Eisen/Getty Images/AFP

Under the new regulation, students who wish to stay longer would have to seek an extension or reapply for a new visa. “Amending the relevant regulations is critical in improving programme oversight mechanisms; preventing foreign adversaries from exploiting the country’s education environment; and properly enforcing and strengthening U.S. immigration laws,” said Ken Cuccinelli, the second-ranking official at DHS, in a statement.

WSJ notes that visas for students who are citizens of or born in the following countries would expire after an initial two years: Afghanistan, Benin, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo (DRC), Congo (ROC), Côted’Ivoire, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Moldova, Mongolia, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, North Korea, Papua New Guinea, The Philippines, Rwanda, Samoa, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Togo, Tonga, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Yemen and Zambia.

The proposed change will undergo a 30-day comment period, said WSJ, adding that it would be difficult for the Trump administration to formally enact it before January 2021 if he doesn’t win a second term this November. While the US has over a million international students on its shores during the 2018/19 academic year, many institutions have seen a decline in international enrollments this year due to multiple factors, including unfriendly immigration policies and COVID-19 travel restrictions.

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