Throughout his presidency, President Donald Trump’s administration has repeatedly tried to implement policies that would hinder international students’ ability to enter the United States and pursue a degree.
A new policy proposal introduced by the Trump administration includes such restrictions, specifically limiting international students’ visas to four years. The current policy allows international students to remain in the United States for as long as they are working on their degrees. Furthermore, under Trump’s proposed policy, visas of students coming from a list of 43 countries, mainly found in Africa, will be capped at two years before having to reapply. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) claims on its website that these rules will prevent visa fraud, protect national security and discourage students from overstaying.
This policy has the potential to disrupt the education of more than 20,000 international students who are enrolled in programs across the 64 SUNY campuses. Binghamton University currently enrolls 1,820 international students from a total of 98 countries. In response to this policy proposal, SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras sent a letter to the Trump administration expressing his opposition.
“SUNY opposes in the strongest possible terms the [DHS’s] arbitrary and capricious effort to disenfranchise international students and exchange visitors,” Malatras wrote. “At public and private institutions nationwide since the founding of this country, international students and exchange visitors have been central to our academic mission, cultural understanding, research enterprise and widespread economic growth.”
Malatras believes the SUNY system already does a good job of protecting national security when allowing international students to study on its campuses.
“While national security is of the utmost concern, campuses across the SUNY system have already implemented and followed rigorous protocols in coordination with federal and state authorities, such as through the [DHS’s] very own robust Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS),” Malatras wrote. “Therefore, the Department [DHS] fails to provide compelling evidence explaining how the current system for international students and exchange visitors is flawed, or how these proposed changes will improve the process.”
If enacted, Malatras claims that this policy would be detrimental to the economy, as SUNY predicts this policy will result in a $422 million loss in tuition and revenue, in addition to the COVID-19-associated financial hardships.
“International students at SUNY schools are contributing $747,156,881 million in economic activity and are supporting 7,685 jobs,” Malatras wrote.
International students have been facing threats to their education from the Trump administration since before the semester began. Over the summer, the Trump administration proposed a policy that would not allow international students to be in the United States if their university was going to be fully online.
Malatras believes international students are important in providing cultural understanding and appreciation among college students.
“[International students] provide domestic students with access to the understanding of other countries and cultures, which is so important to succeed in a global market for employment, ideas and innovation,” Malatras wrote.
BU President Harvey Stenger expressed his support of Malatras’ statement. Stenger made an official comment opposing the policy proposal as well, which has now been filed with the federal registrar.
“We would like to commend the Chancellor for speaking out against these proposed limitations,” Stenger said. “In fact, the proposed rule should be withdrawn in its entirety, and that admission for the duration of status should remain in effect. To upend a system that has been in place for decades to further reduce an already low number of students and scholar violations seems unwarranted, at best.”
Patricia Bello, director of international student support services (ISSS) and assistant provost for international education and global affairs, believes that this policy would strongly impact duration of status (D/S) admission status, or the ability for international students to retain their nonimmigrant student status and stay in the United States.
“The D/S designation would be replaced with a fixed end date of either two or four years upon entry into the [United States],” Bello wrote in an email. “Additionally, it would change the current program extension process.”
Although it would be possible to request an extension to their status if needed, Bello said the proposed policy will make this process more difficult and costly.
“Under this proposed rule, the extension process would be replaced by a requirement to file an extension of stay directly with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which would cost money, take time to be adjudicated and have the potential to be very stressful,” Bello wrote.
Bello said she is committed to providing as much assistance and comfort to international students as possible to help them deal with the changes that this policy will cause if enacted.
“I can only imagine the stress that our international students and scholars are under due to the myriad of immigration-related changes that have been proposed and/or enacted in days of late — however, my colleagues and I remain committed to providing unwavering support and advocacy as we navigate this unchartered regulatory landscape,” Bello wrote.
Bello said she feels as though BU and the SUNY system are doing everything in their power to protect their international students.
“BU stands in solidarity with our international students and scholars during these uncertain times,” Bello wrote. “[ISSS] is advocating fiercely in collaboration with upper administration, SUNY system and organizations, such as [National Association of Foreign Student Advisers]: Association of International Educators, to voice our concerns in an effort to protect our shared values as an academic community.”