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DHS duration of stay proposal receives 32,000 public comments

More than 32,000 comments were submitted to the US Department of Homeland Security over its proposed “duration of stay” policy which would limit the time international students can remain in the country to either two or four years.

The DHS has said that the proposed rule would go into force in 2020. Photo: pixabay

Attorney generals questioned the suggestion that the proposed rule go into effect in 2020

Joining calls to withdraw the proposed rule were 20 Republican members of Congress, state attorney generals from 21 states and the District of Columbia, as well as almost 80 Democratic members of the House and Senate.

“The vast majority who comply with the rules would be penalised because of the few who do not”

More than 80 councils, associations and education organisations signed the American Council on Education’s letter urging DHS to reconsider its “largely unworkable” proposal.

National Center for Education Statistics data shows that 56% of international undergraduate students complete courses within four years, with the average time taking 4.69 years.

“A large population of our international undergraduate students would not complete their degrees within the maximum four year prescribed time frame for sundry reasons,” they wrote.

“This is also very limiting for students who may want to switch their majors, add an additional minor, or take courses outside of their major, all important aspects that make a US education attractive to international students.”

“While we share the administration’s concerns regarding visa overstays and fraud, we request you adopt targeted approaches to address specific problems,” a submission from 20 members of the House, led by Jaime Herrera Beutler, read.

“Under the proposed rule, the vast majority of students and scholars who comply with the rules would be penalised because of the few who do not.”

Earlier, EnglishUSA, TESOL International Association, and University and College Intensive English Programs submitted a joint statement saying the rule would limit opportunities for English language learners, negatively impact international US diplomacy, and harm local US economies.

Many individuals and organisations submitting comments highlighted the difficulties the proposed rule would mean for PhD students requiring more than four years to complete their courses, which take on average 5.8 years to complete for international students.

The proposed durations “are leaving behind international students who are seeking a PhD degree”, a comment from a PhD student at University of Michigan noted.

Being required to reapply for lawful presence during studies may take a long time, during which students may “have to leave the country and halt all our study and research activities here”, they warned.

“This is not only harmful for the students, but the universities we study or work at.

“Furthermore, this will cause a drastically increased workload for both the university and the relevant government agencies.”

“If the US government still cares about advanced degree holder to get involved in US, please retract this proposal,” another anonymous international PhD student wrote.

A DHS spokesperson told The PIE News that “the department is currently reviewing comments received during the public comment period and will take them into consideration when drafting the final rule”.

The change would “provide the department with additional protections and mechanisms to exercise the oversight necessary to vigorously enforce our nation’s immigration laws, protect the integrity of these nonimmigrant programs, and promptly detect national security concerns”, the department has previously said.

“The department is currently reviewing comments received during the public comment period”

Attorney generals questioned the suggestion that the proposed rule go into effect in 2020, despite it providing certain protections for those currently on F and J visas.

“At a minimum, students who have been admitted to and have recently begun, for example, PhD programs that often require six years or more to complete, will be faced with an impossible decision.

“They hope, without reasonable assurances from DHS, that they will be granted the Extension of Status they need to complete their programs, or end their studies and return to their home countries with their lives upended and tens of thousands of dollars in lost tuition,” the attorney generals wrote.

“Faced with the prospect of being unable to complete a program in two or four years, many students would, reasonably, decide not to apply to study in the US at all,” they added.

“The result would be disastrous for the diverse, globalised education American students need to thrive in the 21st century, and for the colleges and universities that reasonably relied upon pre-existing regulations to craft budgets and educational programming, including the public colleges and universities in the undersigned states.”

It would require, at a minimum, several months to implement, they concluded.

Rebecca Morgan, senior director, Media Communications and Advocacy at NAFSA said the organisation was “not surprised by the number of comments for this proposal”.

“We know how important this program is to international students, higher education, and businesses in the United States,” she said.

“In terms of next steps, the rule must be reviewed and finalised. DHS is required to review the comments, then decide if any changes will be made to the rule based on the comments.

“The rule then must go back to the Office of Management and Budget for review before it can be published as a final rule, which could certainly happen before the end of the year.”

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