Organizers for Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers are circulating a petition that calls on Vice Provost for International Affairs Mark C. Elliott and the Harvard International Office to act in opposition to the Trump administration’s proposed visa policy change for international students.
Citing national security concerns, the United States Department of Homeland Security issued a “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” on Sept. 25 that would reduce the amount of time international students can spend inside the country.
If the ruling comes into effect, international students on F and J nonimmigrant visas will be required to apply for a visa extension after staying for no more than four years. If a student were to come from a country with visa overstay rates of over 10 percent, they would be obligated to have their legal status re-evaluated after two years.
“In addition, as proposed, certain categories of aliens would be eligible for shorter periods of admission based on national security, fraud, or overstay concerns,” the DHS notice reads. “DHS believes that this process would help to mitigate risks posed by foreign adversaries who seek to exploit these programs.”
HGSU-UAW’s petition denounced the proposed rule, arguing that it sent an unwelcome message to international students who want to study in the United States.
For Aayush Khadka, a graduate student organizer, the move is the latest in a series of efforst by the Trump administration to make it more difficult for international students to live and study in the United States.
“The proposed rule has the potential to disrupt the lives of all international students and international student workers in a major way,” Khadka said. “I am in the last year of my Ph.D. program, but, you know, the rule won’t even spare me.”
Khadka is from Nepal, which is listed as a country with a visa overstay rate of greater than 10 percent. Should the ruling be implemented, his future in the United States could be jeopardized.
“From the time the rule is implemented, the duration of stay on my I-95 form would change the current duration of status, I guess, to a two year provision,” he added.
Even in his post-graduate career, Khadka would have to travel out of the country to get a new visa or apply for an extension of stay just two years into his professional training — a process that could take up to six months.
HIO sent an email to all international students about the DHS proposal Sept. 29, notifying them that Harvard’s leadership would review the notice and respond in coordination with other academic institutions.
“University leadership is reviewing the proposed rule and will work with colleagues at our peer institutions and national associations in DC to respond to the many concerning provisions of the proposed rule and to support our international community in the best way possible,” the email read.
Francesca Bellei, another graduate student organizer, said she felt HIO’s message to students was not enough and stressed that the University should take more concrete action.
“Unlike the July 6 ruling, there was no strong statement of unequivocal condemnation, there has been no swift legal action,” Bellei said. “I think that’s also because this proposed rule is a lot harder to fight legally, because it is written differently.”
Bellei referred to the University's lawsuit against a July DHS and ICE order that would have forced international students to leave the country if their schools went remote for the fall term. After Harvard and MIT sued the agencies, the order was rescinded.
The HGSU petition also calls on Harvard to communicate with international students about the consequences of the proposed rule and detail the actions Harvard is taking to oppose it. It demands the University host an information session with an immigration lawyer to provide further guidance.
In an emailed statement, University spokesperson Jason A. Newton called the proposed rule “ill-conceived.”
“The Trump Administration's new proposal to restrict international students and scholars through a proposed rule to limit the duration and validity of visas, and to introduce new reviews by DHS of the academic progress of visa holders, is the latest in a series of ill-conceived policies, orders, and practices to undermine the U.S.’s position as the top destination for the world’s best students and scholars,” Newton wrote.
Newton said the University will submit formal comment to the federal government as the proposal approaches final review.
“The University will participate in this process to share our abiding support for international students and scholars, and in the hope that these views will encourage DHS to reconsider its deeply flawed proposal,” Newton added.
—Staff writer Kevin A. Simauchi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @simauchi.