International students face more difficulties as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) continues to reinterpret and redefine policy language.
The Trump administration plans to target Optional Practical Training (OPT) and establish a maximum period of authorized stay for F-1 and other non-immigrant student visas. Currently, F-1 students are admitted for a “duration of status” and allowed to remain in the country for the duration of their full course of study, including any period designated for practical training.
An international student would be required to get a new visa approval at each level of their study and in cases when academic programs take longer than expected. The new rule would introduce more obstacles and raise the cost for international students.
However, beyond the additional cost is the prospect of USCIS adjudicators denying student extension requests. Denials have risen across the board for visa applications and extensions. Given the current trend, international students would face greater uncertainty in their academic investments.
Another cause for concern is the timeliness of processing. There are significant delays in USCIS processing that could cause students to become out of status. For instance, an “Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status (I-539)” currently takes between 9 to 11 months to process at the Texas Service Center.
International students would need to file for an extension nearly a year in advance, which may not be possible given USCIS strict filing rules. According to USCIS, unless a student who filed a timely application leaves the country, they would be in jeopardy if USCIS failed to approve the application on time.
This is because lawful nonimmigrant status ends when the Form I-94 expires, even in cases where the person applied to extend their nonimmigrant status on time. Moreover, The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may initiate removal proceedings even when an application for extension of status is pending.
The U.S. higher education system is beginning to feel the effects of frequent immigration policy changes as international student enrollment shrinks. According to data published by the Institute of International Education (IIE), new enrollment of international students dropped from 300,743 in the 2015-2016 academic year to 269,383 in the 2018-2019 academic year (10% drop nationwide).
Meanwhile, Australian government data show a 47% increase in higher education enrollment for international students between 2015-2018. Canada has also remained competitive in attracting international students. The number of international students in Canada increased by 68% between 2014 and 2018. Additionally, “international students in Canada spent an estimated $21.6 billion on tuition, accommodation and other expenses in 2018 and sustained close to 170,000 jobs for Canadians in 2016,” according to the Government of Canada’s International Education Strategy document.
Other countries are competing for global talent and reaping the enormous economic and social benefits of attracting international students. However, the U.S. is going in the opposite direction by increasing cost and uncertainty to make studying in the U.S. more difficult for international students.