BOSTON (Mass.gov) – Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey Tuesday announced she co-led a group of 22 state attorneys general in calling on the Trump Administration to withdraw its plan to severely restrict the amount of time international students are allowed to stay in the country.
“This is another illegal attempt by the Trump Administration to exclude international students from our colleges and universities,” AG Healey said. “Massachusetts is home to tens of thousands of students from other countries who enrich our institutions and strengthen our communities. We’re calling on the Administration to withdraw this proposal immediately as it would have far-reaching impacts on our states, our economies, our students and our educational institutions.”
“I want to thank Attorney General Healey and her colleagues across the nation for recognizing the valuable contributions that international students, including 7,000 of them at UMass, make to our economy and to the educational experience of our domestic students,” said President of the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Marty Meehan. “It is critical that this DHS proposed rule be turned back and that the evaluation of student progress remains where it has always been – on college and university campuses.”
In a letter sent to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Monday, the coalition argued that the Administration’s proposal to set fixed time limits of two to four years for student visas would harm international students, limit educational opportunities for American students, damage state economies, create unnecessary red tape, and violate federal law. The proposal would upend longstanding policy that allows students on F visas to stay in the United States as long as they need to earn their degree, if they remain enrolled at an accredited institution and meet the requirements. In addition to providing more than one million international students with the certainty that they can remain in the country as long as they need to complete their degree, the “Duration of Status” framework provides significant savings to taxpayers by eliminating the need for the federal government to process hundreds of thousands of student visa extensions annually.
In September 2020, DHS proposed a rule that would drastically limit the amount of time international students can remain in the country. Under the new rule, initial visas would be valid for a maximum of four years, while many students who are from countries designated as “state sponsors of terrorism” or countries that have visa overstay rates of more than 10 percent would be limited to two-year initial visa terms. Students who attend an educational institution that does not participate in the unrelated E-Verify employment eligibility program would also be limited to two-year initial visas. After the initial visa term, foreign students would be required to obtain documentation from their institution and apply for a visa extension, which would be granted by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) only when “additional time needed is due to a compelling academic reason, documented medical illness or medical condition, or circumstance that was beyond the student’s control.”
The DHS proposal is the latest in a series of illegal attempts by the Trump Administration to keep residents of other countries out of the United States. The coalition argues that the proposed rule would:
- Cause sharp declines in international student enrollment: This rule would apply to both undergraduate and graduate students, despite the fact that only 41 percent of all full-time college students earn a bachelor’s degree in four years, and the median time needed to complete a doctoral degree is more than six years. In 2018, more than 53 percent of all international students were enrolled in programs with a minimum duration of four years. In some instances, international students represent a larger proportion of a particular program. At the UMass Medical School, 30 percent of its Biomedical Sciences PhD students are international, and these students are currently working in research labs that are on the forefront of efforts to stem the COVID-19 pandemic. If students are subjected to two- and four- year limitations, they would have no assurance they would be able to complete their programs, leading to a sharp decline in students applying for these programs.
- Negatively impact opportunities for American students: A decline in international student enrollment would result in significant financial losses for American colleges and universities and would impact their ability to serve low-income in-state students and reduce their required tuition. International students contribute to diverse communities and help American students build intercultural communication and problem-solving skills, and without international students, American students will be less prepared to compete in a globalized economy.
- Harm state economies: The proposed rule poses a significant risk to the health of state economies, particularly during a time of decreased tax revenue and high unemployment. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, international students contributed $44.7 billion to the U.S. economy in 2018.
- Create unnecessary bureaucratic red tape: If this rule is adopted, DHS would be flooded with hundreds of thousands of new visa extension applications—an estimated 364,060 by 2024—when it already cannot process applications in a timely fashion. In fact, the “Duration of Status” framework was created because continually processing applications for visa extensions was placing a major burden on the federal government and wasting taxpayer dollars. The new rule would create the exact issues the government sought to address when it adopted the current system.
Finally, the coalition contends that Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf lacks the legal authority to implement the proposed rule and that the rule conflicts with existing regulations.
In July, AG Healey successfully led a coalition of 18 attorneys general in filing a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts against DHS and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) over a rule that barred international students from living in the United States while taking all of their classes online during the pandemic. One day after AG Healey filed the lawsuit, DHS announced it withdrew the rule.
Today’s letter was co-led by AG Healey and District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine and joined by the attorney generals of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.