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Current student visas are under threat as new rules limiting the duration of status are being proposed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), citing a need to increase oversight of international students and combat fraud and visa overstays. Today, students can stay in the U.S. indefinitely as long as they remain enrolled in school and abide by the rules of their immigration status.

The DHS’ proposed rules affect student visas that would require students to apply for an extension after fixed terms of no more than four years. Depending on their country of origin, some students would have to reapply after two years. This includes students from Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria, or students who are citizens of countries like Africa and Asia where student and exchange visitor visa overstay rates exceed 10 percent; these students would only be eligible for two-year visas with the possibility for renewal.

The proposed fixed four-year term is noticeably shorter than the length that many degrees require, including a Ph.D program, or the time many students need to finish a baccalaureate program. In this scenario, students would need to apply for an extension of stay prior to completing their program.

Students applying for extensions of stay could be approved “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,” the new rule states.

More than one million international students are estimated to bring in $41 billion for the U.S. economy, representing 5.5 percent of all students enrolled in higher education. 

Critics of the proposed changes say it complicates the current policy serving international students, making the process of studying in the U.S. more burdensome. The most challenging aspect is the uncertainty and difficulty the new policy creates for international students and exchange visitors looking to maintain their legal status in the U.S. International student advocates also say the proposed rule makes the U.S. a less welcoming place for students who bring diversity, exceptional talents, and strong economic impact.

The proposed rule is open for public comment, which can be submitted here, until October 26, 2020.

Check out Peterson’s International Students Resource Page for more information about student admissions, guide to U.S. colleges, getting your student visa, and more!