US Withdraws Proposed Rule on Fixed-Term Limits for International Student Visas


The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) stated earlier this month that it had formally withdrawn a proposed rule change it would have imposed term limitations on international student visas. The proposal would have overturned the long-standing “duration of study” requirements that govern the issuance and renewal of US student visas.

This approach essentially allows international students to stay in the United States throughout the duration of their academic programs, as long as they follow the criteria of their visa category.

The proposed rule would have barred many international students from living in the United States for more than four years (unless they were granted a visa extension or successfully reapplied for a new visa). However, it also proposed more stricter limits of two years for students from Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria, as well as any other countries where visa overstay rates surpassed 10%.

When it was first proposed in September 2020, the concept was widely rejected by international educators. The rule, according to Miriam Feldblum, executive director of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, would “set arbitrary timelines that do not match how many academic programs work, and it is creating barriers and uncertainty for international students who will wonder, ‘Is the US the right place for me to come?’” NAFSA requested DHS in an open letter in Fall 2020 to “withdraw this poorly drafted regulation from consideration.”

DHS acknowledged in its formal June 2021 notice that it “intends to withdraw this proposed rule.” Initially, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) proposed modifying the period of authorized stay for certain categories of non-immigrants travelling to the US by eliminating the availability of ‘duration of status’ and instead of providing a maximum period of authorized stay with options for extensions for each applicable visa category.”

In a related update, NAFSA explains that the proposed rule never progressed beyond the consultation phase which attributes in large part to The Biden Administration Regulatory Freeze Memorandum from January 20, 2021, an executive order that provided for “various temporary stops on implementation of ‘midnight rules’ issued by the Trump administration, to give the Biden administration time to revise them.

According to NAFSA, “when the Biden Administration issued its Regulatory Freeze memorandum, DHS had not yet transmitted a final duration of the status rule to [the federal Office of Management and Budget] for approval or to the Office of the Federal Register for publication.” According to paragraph 1 of the Regulatory Freeze memorandum, no final rule can be issued “until a department or agency head selected or designated by the President reviews and approves the rule afternoon on 20 January 2021.”

As a result of DHS withdrawing the plan, the current duration of study rules for US student visas will stay in effect.


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