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US withdraws proposed rule on fixed-term limits for international student visas

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • The US government has withdrawn a controversial rule that would have introduced specific term limits for US study visas
  • Many students would have been limited to four-year study terms in the US, but some faced even more severe limits of two-year caps on their US study programmes
  • With the formal withdrawal of the proposal this month, the current practices around allowing students to remain in the US for the duration of their studies will prevail

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced earlier this month that it has formally withdrawn a proposed rule change that sought to place term limits on international student visas. The rule would have upended the long-standing “duration of study” provisions under which US student visas are currently issued or renewed.

That approach essentially allows foreign students to remain in the US for the duration of their academic programmes so long as they are abiding by the rules of their visa category.

The proposed rule would have prevented many international students from staying in the US for longer than four years (unless they were granted a visa extension or successfully reapplied for a new visa). But it also proposed even more severe limits of two years for students from Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria, and from any other countries for which visa overstay rates exceeded 10%.

The proposal was widely condemned by international educators when it was first introduced in September 2020. Miriam Feldblum, executive director of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, said at the time that the rule would “set arbitrary timelines that do not match how many academic programmes work, and it is creating barriers and uncertainty for international students who are going to wonder, ‘Is the US the right place for me to come?’” In an open letter to DHS in fall 2020, NAFSA urged the agency to “withdraw this poorly conceived rule from consideration.”

In its formal June 2021 notice, DHS confirmed that it, “Intends to withdraw this proposed rule. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) originally proposed modifying the period of authorised stay for certain categories of non-immigrants traveling to the United States by eliminating the availability of ‘duration of status’ and by providing a maximum period of authorised stay with options for extensions for each applicable visa category.”

In a related update, NAFSA explains that the proposed rule never moved beyond the consultation phase, which it attributes in large part to The Biden Administration Regulatory Freeze Memorandum from 20 January 2021, an executive order which provided for “varied temporary stops on implementation of ‘midnight rules’ issued by the [outgoing] Trump administration, to give the Biden administration time to review those regulations and policies.”

“When the Biden Administration issued its Regulatory Freeze memorandum,” adds NAFSA, “DHS had not yet sent a final duration of status rule to [the federal Office of Management and Budget] for review or to the Office of the Federal Register for publication. Paragraph 1 of the Regulatory Freeze memorandum likely means that no final rule could advance ‘until a department or agency head appointed or designated by the President after noon on 20 January 2021, reviews and approves the rule.'”

The end result, with the proposal now withdrawn by DHS, is that the current duration of study practices for US study visas will remain in place.

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