On September 25, the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released a proposed rule fixing the initial visa term for all international students, exchange visitors, and foreign media representatives to four years, among other restrictions. Furthermore, the proposal would restrict the initial visa term to two years for individuals born in countries designated as state-sponsors of terrorism and citizens of countries with student and exchange visitor overstay rates over 10 percent. Applications to extend the duration of the visa would be possible “if the 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.” Other restrictions included in the proposal are capping the number of times an international student can change majors or degree levels while on a visa, limiting allowed English language training to two years over the student’s lifetime, and giving ICE the discretion to approve or deny stay applications. Current international student visas would not be affected.
The rule proposal has been criticized by many in the higher education community due to concerns it would unnecessarily bar international students from studying in the U.S., some noting that academic programs frequently take longer than the proposed maximum initial visa term of four years. However, since the rule finalization process may not be completed before January 20, 2021, a change in the Presidential administration could prevent any changes from occurring.
Stakeholder comments on the proposal will be accepted through October 26, 2020. The proposal can be read in full in the Federal Register.