International students are worried, at Yale and across the nation.
On Sep. 25th, the Trump administration proposed a new regulation fixing an end date for visa holders’ stay in the United States, mandating two- and four-year expiration periods on F-1 and J-1 visas, which indicate full student status. Currently, with the “duration of status” policy in place, visas remain valid for as long as it takes holders to get their degree or finish a research project. If this proposal becomes law, it will be the single biggest change to international student regulations in almost 20 years, cautioning the world that under Trump, the United States is no longer a welcoming center for international talent.
That the Trump administration rejects foreigners comes as no surprise. In line with the anti-immigrant, xenophobic, isolationist policies the administration has so far enacted, one of the most alarming provisions of the newly proposed rule targets student visa holders from countries with higher rates of visa overstays and citizens of countries on the State Department Sponsor of Terrorism List. Both categories of international applicants will be limited to a two-year stay in the U.S. It is deeply disturbing and completely unacceptable that this provision disproportionately targets students born in African and Middle Eastern countries. It means that foreign applicants from the countries on these two lists might be unable to pursue a degree or research project taking longer than two years in the United States.
Not only is this proposal outright racist, its exclusionary provisions rely on false data. According to an analysis from the National Foundation for American Policy, the regulation fails to acknowledge problems with the way the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) identifies individuals who changed their immigration status inside the U.S. or left the country. The overstay rate for F-1 international students that the proposed ruling relies on is not an actual overstay rate, but only an “upper-bound estimate of individuals who DHS could not positively identify as leaving the United States.” The inflated overstay rates that the DHS is using to designate countries also include unrecorded departures.
Many undergraduates take longer than four years to fulfill their degree requirements, whereas receiving a Ph.D takes an average of six years in U.S. graduate schools. The Yale Graduate Student Assembly recently passed a resolution condemning the proposed rule, noting that it would place an undue burden on international students: most will be simply unable to complete their education before their visa expires.
A large concern is that the DHS ruling does not specify a time frame for granting visa extension requests. According to the Department of Homeland Security, consideration of an extension will be given only to those with a “compelling academic reason, documented medical illness or medical condition, or circumstance that was beyond the student’s control,” language vague enough to ensure a denial for any targeted visa holder, putting any applicant at the mercy of an immigration official’s rubber stamp. Students are not only worried about the uncertainty of being granted an extension, but also about the cost: the DHS also estimates a fee of around $1,000 per extension request, an “international student tax,” a troubling hurdle for many internationals.
All the while, the DHS is fully aware this proposed ruling will make U.S. universities less competitive and may reduce international enrollment. According to the DHS, “the proposed rule may adversely affect U.S. competitiveness in the international market for nonimmigrant student enrollment and exchange visitor participation.” With international student enrollment gradually decreasing in the United States already, why introduce a racist, unnecessary, flawed regulation targeting one of the most strictly monitored visa-holding groups in the nation?
Students on F-1 and J-1 visas are limited to a few hours of work a week, cannot pursue internships without applying for work authorization like OPT (Optional Practical Training) or CPT (Curricular Practical Training) first and have to reapply for visas within five years in any case. Adding additional hurdles will only further complicate the visa process and harm both international students and lower the quality of education at U.S. universities by reducing valuable international perspectives.
As members of the International Student Organization, we are working with our University and fellow institutions to formally reject and condemn the proposed rule. The official comment period ends on Oct. 26; if you would like to help fight this proposed ruling, please consider writing a comment here. Each comment, domestic or international, must be addressed by the government before the regulation is passed, so every comment counts. This fight is for everyone: both domestic and international students must join forces in opposing the DHS’s racially discriminatory and xenophobic proposal.
AURELIA DOCHNAL and VERONIKA DENNER are sophomores in Ezra Stiles College. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.