As of Friday, 22,000 individuals or groups have weighed in on a rule change
that would impose strict two- or four-year limits on the time international students can study in the United States. While there’s still another week before the comment period closes, I wondered what we could learn from the feedback that’s already been shared. A few observations:
Opposition to the rule greatly outweighs those who favor the change. Even when I filtered the comments by the keyword “support,” people writing that they did not support the new regulation outnumbered those who did by about three to one.
Backers of the proposed rule cited fears that international students would take American jobs — and concerns about Chinese Communist Party. ”We should maintain the capability to control who can stay in the U.S., not only who can enter. Especially students from China,” wrote one anonymous commenter. “Most of them are brainwashed to become strong, blind supporters of CCP. These people are really harmful to the free world.”
I found this argument interesting because, unlike some more recent Trump administration orders and executive actions
, the rule change doesn’t single out China. Others echoed the stated rationale for the regulation, that too many students overstay their visas: “Students come here and simply disappear and nothing happens….The U.S. has been too lax about foreign students. I totally support having them accountable.” (For more on visa overstay rates, check out this recent newsletter
Opposition to the new regulation is organized. I read quite a few statements drafted from a common template: “By submitting this comment, I am expressing my opposition to this proposed rule. The proposal would severely damage….”
But many commenters took the time to share a personal perspective. “The approval of this policy may force me to give up my dream of studying in the U.S.,” wrote one student. Another made the case for why hard-and-fast visa terms could be a problem: “I have changed my major from Computer Science to Information Systems, which means that I may not able to complete my degree in the expected semester term. The new fixed time period regulation doesn’t consider the flexibility of the time needed to obtain a degree as a student.”
Some American students offered support for their classmates: “I am an American Ph.D. student and have worked and studied with hundreds of international students for almost a decade now. Every international student I have known is already under constant pressure to follow the rules and maintain their status that allows them to be in the U.S.”
Some of the statements argued that the regulation would interfere with academic decisionmaking. One commenter called the especially stringent lifetime limits on visas for English-language study “arbitrary and unfair,” pointing out that some students take longer to learn English for educational or cultural reasons. An international student advisor wrote that the proposed rule “undermines my job and would be so time consuming that I would have no other time to do anything else beneficial to students during the rest of my job, such as programming and welcoming and cultural activities.
Others emphasized the broader consequences, particularly to American competitiveness. “Put simply, this proposed rule will contribute directly to the loss of U.S. leadership in science,” wrote a biomedical engineer at a top research university. “The potential disruption to my research productivity and much of that in U.S. academic institutions by the contemplated change from duration of status, which will surely jeopardize the current and future pool of excellent international students who are a vital part of our research engine, is, in a word, disastrous.”
Still, few commenters appeared to weigh in from outside higher ed. I spotted a handful of remarks from the broader community, like the college town landlord who expressed his opposition because “this rule will make me lose a great amount of money.” But when I searched for comments from employers, local governments, and other outside groups, I largely came up short.
Why does that matter? In other instances — most recently this summer, with the government’s quick reversal
of a policy change on remote learning — international students and colleges have benefitted from the support of a broader coalition. Ironically, the proposed rule will likely affect more students than that earlier measure, but as one veteran administrator noted to me, when the central issue is visa length, “for people outside of higher ed, it’s not likely to garner headlines and rally the troops.”
Congress, however, could be a source of support: Republican lawmakers in the House are circulating a “Dear Colleague” letter opposing the proposed rule.