Update: Call to Action (October 11, 2020)
The public notice and comment period for the rule change is currently open. The deadline to submit comments is: Monday, October 26, 2020 at 11:59pm EDT. In other words, there is a window of opportunity in the next two weeks to present DHS with comments opposing the rule change.
NAFSA, the Association of International Educators, has put together very helpful resources to assist any individual or institution with the process of submitting a comment: https://www.nafsa.org/sites/
The link for submitting a comment is here: https://www.federalregister.
We encourage all members to consider the potential impact of the proposed change to students visas for their institutions and, if so inclined, to submit a comment or to communicate with university administrators about submitting a comment on behalf of their institution.
MESA Task Force on Civil and Human Rights Statement on DHS Proposed Rule Imposing New Limits on Student Visa Duration
On Thursday 24 September 2020, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed a new rule that, if adopted, would represent the most far-reaching change to the regulations affecting international student visas in decades. The proposed rule would set fixed terms on student visas that for many will not cover the full duration of the period of study required to complete their degree. Students would therefore be forced to apply for extensions, and would thus be deprived of the certainty that they could complete their studies. Moreover, for many students from the developing world, additional restrictions apply that would, in effect, cut off their access to degree programs in the United States.
MESA’s Task Force on Civil and Human Rights was established by the MESA board of directors in November 2016 to supplement the work of the MESA Committee on Academic Freedom by addressing threats to the civil rights, human rights and political freedoms of the Middle East Studies community. We condemn this proposed rule, which will not only damage academic institutions in the United States but also limit access for future generations of international students, including many from the Middle East and North Africa, to higher education in this country.
Currently, student visas are issued to cover the duration of the visa recipient’s status as a student, so long as they remain enrolled in school and comply with relevant immigration rules. This flexible system has enabled the United States each year to attract hundreds of thousands of talented international students to the higher education sector in this country. As a result, American universities are among the most attractive and competitive in the world, enabling them to sustain their reputation for cutting-edge research and yielding enormous collateral benefits to the U.S. economy.
The newly proposed rule sets a maximum four-year term on visas, which would not cover the duration of a typical Ph.D. program and, for many students, may not even cover the full period required for the completion of a baccalaureate program. Requiring students to apply for a discretionary extension while in the midst of a program would impose new burdens and uncertainties on these students, potentially undermining their ability to successfully complete programs in which they are otherwise making good progress.
Moreover, the proposed fixed-term rule imposes additional limits on visas for certain students based on country of origin. Students from nearly sixty countries would be limited to a two-year visa on the grounds that visa overstay rates from those countries exceed ten percent. For these students, the initial term of their visa would not be sufficient to ensure legal status for the minimum duration of most degree programs in the United States. This restriction disproportionately affects students from Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, all regions that have previously been targeted for far-reaching travel restrictions by the Trump administration.
The unmistakable message being sent by the current administration is that the United States no longer welcomes international students. If this rule were to go into effect, students from much of the world would face severe disincentives in considering degree programs in the U.S. Depriving international students of lawful status for the duration required for most doctoral programs, and restricting students from much of the developing world to two-year visas insufficient even for undergraduate study will inflict broad harms on the intellectual life and economic viability of American universities, future generations of students, and the sectors of the economy that require highly qualified researchers and professionals. We call on DHS to withdraw this proposed rule.
 The fifty-nine countries included in the list of those subject to two-year visas are: Afghanistan, Benin, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Burma, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Congo-Kinshasa, Côte d'Ivoire, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, the Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Iraq, Kenya, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Moldova, Mongolia, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, 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.