In the memo, Welch warns that changes to periods of stay for F-1 and J-1 visa holders announced via a ‘regulatory roadmap’ from the White House, and expected in 2019, could “undermine their ability to study [in the US]”.
“Efforts are being undermined by policies that pull up America’s welcome mat”
As the NAFSA director explained in the statement, students on these visas can currently remain in the US for “duration of status” (often referred to as D/S) which covers their period of study and any practical training they choose to undertake.
However, new rules proposed by the administration would limit students’ ability to stay if their situation changed – for example if they extended their study period in the US, or experienced a change in circumstances – by attaching a timestamp to the student visas, which would act as a ‘leave by’ date.
NAFSA pointed out that SEVIS currently vet and monitor J-1 and F-1 recipients, and hoped to convince government of the importance of the more open policy, as a factor that continues to draw students to the US.
“Maintaining this policy is necessary because the time for study or research can fluctuate given the changing goals and actions of the student or scholar. We are in a global competition for talent, and we need to ensure our policies are welcoming,” Welch wrote.
Instead, Welch declared this policy change “undermined” the sector, and would be akin to attempting to “close our doors and pull up America’s welcome mat”.
Welch’s message was echoed by some in the sector, including ISEP’s director of member relations, Rosie Edmond.
“If USCIS will handle extensions it be a nightmare”
“As a sponsor of J-1 visas for students coming from our ISEP member universities in 53 counties around the world, we are concerned about potential changes to the future of academic exchange,” she told The PIE News.
“Each student entering the U.S. on a J-1 visa comes with the hope and expectation of making life long connections,” Edmond added.
Josh Taylor, associate vice-chancellor, global programs & mobility services at New York University joined the perplexed reaction to the proposal, describing it as “a solution in search of a problem”.
“International students are closely screened prior to being approved for visas, and of course, the duration of students’ studies can change dramatically over time, which makes the notion of fixed terms curious at best,” he added.
But immigration lawyer David Ware, who is based in Louisiana but works across the US on international education and visa matters, was more reserved in his prediction on the effect of the policy.
“I think the overall effect – negative or positive – will depend on exactly how this change is implemented,” he told The PIE.
“If designated school official’s are allowed to grant extensions based on change of major, academic difficulties, beginning a new program and so on, I don’t think the change will have much additional negative effect,” Ware continued.
This is because the current rules include a 60-day grace period and OPT, within which visas can be changed or extended if the period of study or circumstances change.
However, Ware did identify potential issues with the implementation of the policy, especially if the US Citizenship and Immigration Services are given the responsibility for any extensions – a “nightmare” scenario, according to the attorney.
“If USCIS will handle extensions, that will be a nightmare, as their adjudications time for most student-related applications is already ridiculously long, and this would only add to their existing workload.”
Josh Taylor from NYU agreed, noting that USCIS is already over-worked and under-resourced for such a policy.
“It is… hard to imagine how an already over-extended Federal agency, USCIS, would be able to implement this change without a huge increase in resources, given what would likely be a flood of extension and change of program requests if this is approved,” he told The PIE.
As well as the potential administrative issues that this policy change would ignite, Ware pointed out that it would also effectively nullify the recent changes to the USCIS ‘unlawful presence’ rules.
“We are in a global competition for talent, and we need to ensure our policies are welcoming”
“If they do implement this, it pretty much renders the new [unlawful presence] policy redundant, so I say, DHS, please take that back if you give us date-certain admissions for F’s and J’s”, he asked.
Along with the changes discussed in this article, and the above USCIS rule changes, the Department of Homeland Security also recently unveiled a price hike for the applications needed for both F-1 or J-1 visas.
Welch concluded the memo with a call to action for a “better” US, and insisted that what might seem like short-term policies would have much longer term effects.
“If we lose our ability to compete for [students] globally, we lose jobs; we lose future foreign policy connections. The world will become less safe, and, the decisions of today will have lasting negative impacts on future generations of Americans.”
“America can and must do better,” she concluded.