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Attorneys general oppose limits on foreign students

Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford announced Tuesday he joined 22 state attorneys general in opposing efforts by the Trump administration to severely restrict the amount of time international students are allowed to stay in the United States.

In a comment letter submitted to the Department of Homeland Security, the coalition opposes a proposed rule that would set fixed time limits of two or four years for student visas, upending longstanding policy that allows students to stay as long as they need to earn their degrees if they continue to meet certain requirements. The coalition urges DHS to abandon the proposed rule, arguing that it would harm international students, limit educational opportunities for American students, damage state economies, create unnecessary red tape and violate federal law.

“The Trump administration has shown little to no concern for the health and safety of students, especially during the pandemic,” Ford said. “International students make up a critical part of our higher education institutions here in Nevada. Now the Trump administration wants to upend immigration rules that have been in place for over 40 years and harm Nevada’s higher education system.

“As your attorney general, I believe the job of my office is justice, and fighting the Trump administration’s attacks on our students, colleges and universities is no exception.”

Since 1979, the United States has used what is known as a “Duration of Status” framework for students on F visas. Currently, international students may stay in the United Sates if they remain enrolled at an accredited institution and meet requirements for progress toward a degree.

“Duration of Status” gives the more than one million international students studying at American institutions certainty that they will be able to stay in the country long enough to successfully earn undergraduate or graduate degrees. It also provides significant savings to taxpayers by eliminating the need for the federal government to process hundreds of thousands of applications for student visa extensions annually.

In September, DHS proposed a new rule that would end “Duration of Status” and drastically limit the amount of time international students are permitted to stay. Under the proposed rule, initial visas would be valid for a maximum of four years. Many students would be limited to two-year initial visa terms, including those who are from countries designated as “state sponsors of terrorism,” from countries that have visa overstay rates of more than 10% according to DHS data or who attend an educational institution that does not participate in the unrelated E-Verify employment eligibility verification program.

After the initial visa term, foreign students would be required to obtain documentation from their institutions and apply for a visa extension, which would be granted by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services 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.” These new requirements would create uncertainty in international students’ ability to complete their courses of study such that many might elect never to start in this country, decreasing enrollment and diversity at many educational institutions.

The proposed DHS rule is the latest in a series of attempts by the Trump administration to keep citizens of other countries out of the United States. In the comment letter, the coalition urges DHS to abandon the proposed rule because it would cause sharp declines in international student enrollment, negatively affect opportunities for American students, harm state economies and cause unnecessary red tape.

This rule would apply to both undergraduate and graduate students, despite the fact that only 41% 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 across the board, ranging from 6.3 years in earth sciences to 11.9 years in education. In the 2018 calendar year, more than 700,000 international students were enrolled in programs with a minimum duration of four years.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, international students contributed $44.7 billion to the U.S. economy in 2018 and, according to the National Association of Foreign Student Advisors, supported 458,290 American jobs. A significant decline in international enrollment when the economy is already struggling would result in additional job losses and declines in much-needed tax revenue.

The District of Columbia and Massachusetts led the letter and, in addition to Nevada, are joined by state attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

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