Yale Daily News

The Graduate Student Assembly passed a resolution last week condemning the Department of Homeland Security’s proposed rule change that would shorten international students’ duration of stay in the United States.

On Sept. 25, the DHS proposed a change that would limit the duration of stay for F-1 and J-1 visa holders — both of which denote full-time student status — to either two or four years before requiring an application with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for an extension of stay. On Oct. 5, the GSA passed a resolution that condemned this proposed change, affirmed the importance of international students within the Yale community and called upon the University to do the same. The resolution passed with 72 in favor and three opposing.

“This proposed change would put an undue burden on international students,” said Aritra Ghosh GRD ’23, one of the resolution’s primary authors. “Most international students come to the U.S. out of an expectation, which has been built up over the last few decades, that the U.S. welcomes international students and gives them opportunities to pursue their education and careers. This is one example of a recent trend of a series of blows that the current administration has issued against this idea.”

Under current policy, visas are not granted for an infinite amount of time. Ghosh explained that most international students have to go home and renew their visas at some point during their doctoral program, since the length of doctoral programs often exceeds the time period during which a U.S. visa is valid. In his case, Ghosh has a visa for five years, but he is in a six-year program. Even before the proposed changes, Ghosh would need to go back to India to renew his visa before he could come back to the U.S. to complete his program.

Ghosh expressed that his main point of contention with the proposed change is that it would place an undue burden on international students financially, academically and mentally. Ghosh stated his concern that the DHS has not promised a time frame for responding to the requests for visa extensions. And since the proposed change would require visa holders to renew their status more frequently, Ghosh said, international students would need to spend nearly the entirety of their programs worrying about their ability to continue their studies.

According to Ghosh, renewing a visa is already a “monthslong” process. Ghosh further noted that the changes would give U.S. immigration officials the power to make decisions on whether to extend a students’ stay or not. Under current rules, universities — who, unlike U.S. immigration officials, understand the nature of specific programs — are the ones involved with deciding whether a certain student has made enough progress to have their visa status extended.

Part of the resolution’s text reads: “Be it further resolved that the GSA condemns this proposed xenophobic and inhuman threat to academic freedom and commits to opposing the implementation of this rule (or any similarly xenophobic and isolationist rule changes).”

Ghosh said that the DHS has not provided sufficient evidence to support their claim that the proposed changes are necessary for national security purposes. He thinks the proposed policy is instead a reflection of the Trump administration’s xenophobia.

Ghosh and Carl “CJ” Rice GRD ’22, the other primary author of the GSA resolution, hope that the University will lead the opposition against the proposed changes. Rice clarified that although he is serving as the GSA public relations committee chair, his commentary in this article represents his opinions as a resolution co-sponsor and as an individual member of the GSA, not as the organization’s PR chair.

“I hope that the University spearheads, or at least explores the possibility of, a legal challenge against this proposed rule, as was notably done by some other institutions last summer when there was a different DHS proposed rule regarding online and offline classes,” Ghosh said. “I am hoping this time that, instead of Yale following the lead of its peer institutions, Yale is the one leading the efforts against these changes.”

GSA Chair Meaghan McGeary GRD ’22 stated that one of the resolution’s goals was to affirm the GSA’s stance that international students are “incredibly valuable” to the Yale community. According to McGeary, the responses the GSA has received from the Yale administration have been positive thus far.

McGeary noted that the GSA has historically been effective at working as a team with the University administration to think of creative solutions that help bring the changes that they are hoping to see.

“The responses we received have been generally that the University feels strongly that they also affirm the place of international students in our community and are actively working through their mechanisms to oppose this rule,” McGeary said. “It’s a team effort to see how we can be as active as we possibly can through all the mechanisms we share, and the ones we don’t, to oppose it as strongly as we can.”

Secretary and Vice President for University Life Kimberly Goff-Crews echoed these sentiments. In an email to the News, Goff-Crews identified international students as “an integral part of the Yale community,” further adding that they “belong at Yale.”

Goff-Crews also outlined some of the steps that Yale has been taking to address the proposed changes, including preparing comments in response to the proposed rule by the DHS and exploring legislative and legal options with peer institutions and higher education associations such as the Association of American Universities. She also encouraged the GSA, as well as individual students, to comment on the proposed rule.

While Rice noted that the GSA resolution is largely symbolic — as the GSA alone cannot compel the DHS to rescind the rule — he emphasized the importance of passing such a resolution.

“Symbols and rhetoric matter, and it’s important that we formalize — as we did with this resolution — our organization’s opposition; by doing so, I hope that we can add pressure to the University’s leadership to mount a vigorous and meaningful response on behalf of the hundreds of international students that come to call New Haven home,” Rice wrote in an email to the News.

According to the GSA resolution, international students comprise approximately half of the doctoral students in the U.S. and more than one-third of the students in Yale’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Julia Bialek | julia.bialek@yale.edu