Last week, the University lobbied against new U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Department of Homeland Security proposals that would hinder international students in their efforts to work and study in the United States.
On Sept. 25, ICE and the DHS proposed a new policy that seeks to limit student and visitor F and J visas to two or four years instead of the current “Duration of Status” policy, which allows students to remain in the country until they earn their degrees. On Oct. 26, the University submitted a comment letter opposing the proposal. Additionally, the University joined an amicus brief with 26 schools to counter new federal rules that would limit the scope of the H-1B “specialty worker” visa program, which many of Yale’s postdoctoral fellows, associate research scientists and faculty members utilize to work in the U.S.
“In the past couple of years, we’ve seen a number of moves to prevent students from coming here for reasons that are clearly more ideological and not based in a legitimate fear of espionage,” Vice President for Global Strategy Pericles Lewis said. “To the extent that we close ourselves off or create a hostile environment for our international students, that’s going to be damaging not just to the universities, but ultimately to the whole country.”
Last Friday, the University joined an amicus brief in a California U.S. District Court supporting a lawsuit from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce against the DHS. The brief opposes DHS rules that will complicate the H-1B visa program. The rules would narrow the definition of a specialty worker, making fewer people eligible for the visa, as well as increase the salary level necessary to get the visa. Other schools that signed the brief include the University of Chicago, Harvard University and Columbia University.
A DHS spokesperson referred the News to the agency’s Oct. 28 press release, which states that the new legislation surrounding H-1B visas will “protect American jobs from unfair international competition.” ICE spokesperson Carissa Cutrell wrote in an email to the News that the purpose for the proposed rule around F and J visas is outlined in the Federal Register, which explains that the rule is necessary to protect intellectual property and ensure national security. ICE is currently reviewing the submitted comments and will consider them as it drafts the final rule, she added.
Lewis said that the additional ICE and DHS proposal to shorten the most common type of student visas, F-1 visas, would affect scholars in Yale’s Ph.D. programs, who often require six years in the U.S. to earn their degrees. Under the proposed policy change, the students would have to apply to renew their visas after two or four years, and would risk having to leave the country if their applications are not approved.
Over the past four years, the federal government has proposed several policies, including travel bans, that would prevent people in general, not just students, from other nations from coming to the U.S., Lewis said. The government justifies these policies by claiming that people from a country with a hostile government may try to steal American intellectual property, Lewis added.
But these attacks on universities may largely be an effort to win votes or be motivated by anti-foreign sentiment, he added. The University’s administration is concerned the U.S. is heading in a “bad direction,” on this front, Lewis said. It has opposed these changes through comment letters, amicus briefs and sometimes by meeting directly with members of the Senate, Congress, state governors or the President himself.
The University’s comment letter to ICE and the DHS argued that the F and J visa policy, which the government claims will increase oversight of people with visas, is unnecessary. Already, there are avenues for the government to ensure people comply with regulations, Yale claimed. Additionally, the change would damage the nation’s reputation as a leader in innovation by discouraging people from coming to the U.S. to conduct research.
“One of my colleagues said, ‘this new rule is solving a problem that doesn’t exist or solving a problem they can already solve with the tools they have,’” Senior Adviser at the Yale Office of International Students and Scholars Yasar Say told the News. “Some institutions are commenting, if you want to increase security and be able track people better, you already have that information [in] your hands, so use that.”
Say said that the nature of higher education is to encourage students to pursue their academic interests. The current Duration of Status policy supports intellectual curiosity and setting two- or four-year limits will hurt that, Say added.
Anna Rullan Buxo ’22, an Office of International Students & Scholars peer liaison, also noted that international students can bring intellectual diversity to classrooms.
“Of course, domestic students are able to provide different perspectives,” Rullan Buxo wrote in an email to the News. “But you provide a much different perspective when you were raised in an entirely different culture and a different system of education, of government, etc. This policy will inevitably limit the intellectual development of the US.”
International Students Organization co-presidents Will Sutherland ’22 and Valerie Nguyen ’22 also noted that job searches have been harder for international students since the introduction of this policy. Once students finish schooling, F-1 visas are valid for one year while they search for a job. After this time, they must switch to a working visa. Smaller companies are now less likely to sponsor international students’ visas — potentially leading students to take fewer risks with the careers they pursue.
Additionally, the new policy may exacerbate bureaucratic delays, Say said. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services will adjudicate the extension appeals according to the proposed policy, which worries Say because the USCIS already takes between three and five months to rule on a case for F and J visas. With the new policy, Say estimated that an additional two million cases will be added to the office’s workload. International students cannot work while waiting for the office to approve their visa renewal request.
Say added that the policy would also give the government purview over academic matters — the USCIS would be in charge of assessing the academic progress of students, since they would need to reapply for a visa in the middle of their academic careers.
“Now you’re putting USCIS in charge of making those determinations and some of them are academic determinations, of which USCIS is not an expert,” Say said. “A dean at Yale College knows better whether an extension should be granted to a student than an immigration adjudicator in Washington.”
The OISS has been working to support students impacted by the new policy by hosting town halls. It has also provided guidance to the Connecticut Attorney General as the state crafts a comment on the proposal.
But until the DHS addresses the comments, Sutherland said that the affected individuals are in a “waiting game.”
There are 2,789 international scholars at Yale, according to the OISS website.
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