The months-long public comment period for the Trump Administration’s newly proposed visa rule targeting international students ended Oct. 25. Public comment periods allow the public to give feedback on rules before they are enacted.
The rule would eliminate a provision known as “duration of status,” which allows international students the flexibility to stay in the U.S. as long as they are enrolled in an academic institution. Instead, students would be limited to fixed four year periods and have to apply for extensions after that.
The proposed rule, which applies to F, J and I visas, would also cut the period of time those students can stay in the U.S. following their graduation from 60 to 30 days, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
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“The significant growth of the F, J and I visa programs has necessitated this proposed update to ensure the integrity of the U.S. immigration system, but this rule does not propose changes to the underlying requirements to qualify for these nonimmigrant classifications,” the DHS said in a press release.
University of Wisconsin assistant Communication Arts professor Allison Prasch, who focuses on U.S. presidential rhetoric, said while the text of the law claims it promotes national security and encourages students to make positive progress towards their degree, the underlying message is international students present a potential threat.
Prasch said the “insidious nature” of President Donald Trump’s rhetoric affected policy language.
“It’s not as shocking. It’s not as offensive at face value,” Prasch said. “But undergirding it all are these ideas about who belongs in America, who gets to be here and who is considered equal or valued.”
Earlier this month, UW released a statement expressing opposition to the rules. The statement called the four year time limit arbitrary and said it would create uncertainty for prospective students on whether they would be able to complete their studies. The average Ph.D. at an American graduate school takes, just under six years.
Shalini Chakraborty was in her third year of undergraduate school at NIT-Durgapur in India when she visited UW as a part of an internship program. She then applied to the UW’s Cellular and Molecular Biology Ph.D. program because of its collaborative work environment and top-notch biology laboratory facilities. Another aspect she liked was that the program gave her the flexibility to decide the focus of her research later on.
Most people spend between five and seven years in the program, Chakraborty said.
Even after Chakraborty got accepted, she still needed to obtain a student visa, a process which involved a lengthy, expensive application and an interview.
“The most scary part of it is the interview, and it’s scary because you have no idea going in if you’re going to get the visa or not, even if everything is fine and you have clear records,” Chakraborty said. “It’s funny because I have this admission letter from a known, good program and university and I had funding, but I still didn’t know if they would just say no, because they don’t ever give a reason.”
Chakraborty said she believes she was accepted because of UW’s recognition and the fact she had funding for her program. Meanwhile, her friend who got into Purdue for his masters degree had his application unexpectedly deferred to administrative processing, something which can last months, Chakraborty said.
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Chakraborty’s current visa allows her to stay for the entire duration of her program. She said she would never have applied if the proposed visa rules been in place.
“If you tell me that [the visa’s] going to be for four years, then I would much rather apply to European programs,” Chakraborty said.
UW geography professor Kris Olds said international students bring valuable new perspectives into the classroom and the industries they go into after graduation.
Olds said he spent time as an international student himself, having gone to the UK from his native Canada to complete his Ph.D.
“Anybody who’s traveled across borders realizes that when you go to another country, you’re always questioning everything you take for granted,” Olds said. “And so the benefit of having people in your classroom, who aren’t from your country that you’re teaching in, is that they are always asking questions that are out of the box about what we take for granted.”
Olds said the new rule will have a negative impact on STEM careers in particular because of the high percentage of international students who go in those fields.
According to a congressional report, nearly half of all international students are enrolled in STEM fields, with 44% of doctorate degrees and 54% of master’s degrees awarded in STEM fields going to international students. The report also notes 72% of foreign doctoral graduates were still in the U.S. 10 years after their graduation.
International students go on to provide a big source of skilled labor for American companies, Olds said. Oftentimes, their cultural knowledge also proves valuable.
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“Harley Davidson is a good example, they mean something to Americans, but they also mean something different to Singaporeans, or people from Japan, or people from China, and so on,” Olds said. “You need some, not just knowledge about engineering motorcycles, but also an understanding of language, culture and society.”
Olds said that attracting and keeping international students is highly competitive, and that when countries like the U.S. impose these sorts of restrictions, countries like Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand try to capitalize on America’s perceived lack of welcomeness to foreigners.
Beyond that, international students also bring in numerous educational and economic benefits to their schools and local communities, Olds said. He added the tuition revenue they bring in helps support and subsidize education for American students.
Because of this, Olds said international students do not significantly impact admissions for American students.
“I could see some concern about exclusion, but the bigger exclusion factors right now are associated with issues like being able to pay for tuition and having strong enough academic records to get in,” Olds said. “It’s not because you’re being bumped out by foreign students.”