Welcoming International Students and Scholars


Download a printable copy Icon PDF 16

Request: We urge members of Congress to support international students and scholars by taking the suggested actions below to improve immigration and visa policy.

America must remain a welcoming nation.
Several troubling federal policy changes have altered the perception of the United States as a welcoming destination for international students, scholars, and researchers. Changes to policy range from instituting a ban on travel from certain countries to placing international students under deportation proceedings for even unknown status violations. Such policies, in combination with deliberate competition from other countries, have contributed to a chilling effect on international study in the United States. Recent enrollment data show that 6.6% fewer new international students enrolled in higher education programs in the United States last year, and instead are choosing to study in other countries. The following policies, if enacted, would ensure international students continue to contribute to the United States in significant ways.

Attract and Recruit the Best and Brightest to the United States

  1. Establish a coordinated U.S. recruitment strategy for international students and scholars. A national recruitment strategy would shift the United States into a proactive posture demonstrating that the U.S. government is serious about attracting a diverse pool of talented individuals to study or conduct research at our institutions of higher education. Similar efforts are underway in other nations and our competition is beginning to yield the benefits of their investments. A national recruitment strategy would rely on active collaboration between government, higher education institutions, and international exchange organizations and result in a strategic plan for enhancing global competitiveness with respect to attracting international students, scientists, and scholars from a wide a variety of cultures, backgrounds, and perspectives to the United States.
  2. Expand dual intent to include foreign student (F) visa applicants. The United States should modernize immigration law by expanding dual intent to include international students applying for F-1 visas at the bachelor’s level and higher, a concept that is currently available in other nonimmigrant categories such as specialty workers (H-1B) and intracompany transferees (L-1). Such a change would permit individuals who are being screened for a visa or when entering the United States to communicate an interest in staying in the country after the completion of their degree.
  3. Improve visa application processing for scientists. The unpredictable timeframe for security clearances and administrative processing runs counter to the critical needs of time-sensitive experiments and research. The lack of transparency when applications take longer than 60 days further frustrates the ability of scientists to do their work.

Support and Retain Talent in the United States

  1. Adjust post-graduation immigration law to permit a smoother entry to work for skilled graduates. There is broad, bipartisan support for “stapling a green card” to the diploma of international students graduating from U.S. colleges and universities. Congress should create a direct path to green cards for select foreign student graduates, eliminate the green card backlogs, and prevent future backlogs.
  2. Provide limited work authorization for spouses of individuals with F status. Earning a U.S. master’s degree or Ph.D. often requires many years of study. Providing the option of work authorization for spouses will help to attract and retain these talented international students who contribute to U.S. innovation and competitiveness.

Direct Federal Agencies to Effectively and Efficiently Implement the Law

  1. Congress should exercise oversight. Prospective international students and scholars make decisions informed by a variety of factors, including their perceptions of a host country’s hospitality and additional bureaucratic burdens associated with entry into the country. The U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate should host hearings on the contributions of international students and the policies that affect the flow of talent to the United States. Topics could include: the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) policies on unlawful presence for F, J, and M nonimmigrants; processing delays and backlogs, and technology to improve immigration services; a direct path to green cards for international students; limited visa validity for certain Chinese graduate students to 12 months; and key provisions in current law and policy that must remain in place, such as duration of status (D/S), and optional practical training (OPT).
  2. Preserve policies that support international education.
    • Duration of status for foreign students and exchange visitors (F, M, J status). For decades, students have been granted immigration status that lasts for the period of time they are engaging in their studies and practical training, known as duration of status or D/S. Alarmingly, the administration included the elimination of D/S in the administration's Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions of September of 2018. Maintaining this policy is necessary because the time for study can fluctuate given the changing goals and actions of the student. For example, a student who begins studying at a community college may transfer to a 4-year institution. Providing ongoing immigration status – duration of status – as long as the student complies with the law reflects the reality of study. USCIS will be unable to timely adjudicate the filings that a change of D/S policy would generate. USCIS already struggles with long backlogs and delays. As of January 16, 2019, the processing time for extension of foreign student status is 11.5 to 15 months at the USCIS Vermont Service Center. USCIS average processing times have increased by 46% over the past two fiscal years and 91% since fiscal year 2014.1 Ending D/S would exacerbate an existing problem by adding an enormous number of new extensions of status filings.
    • Experiential learning opportunities for foreign students and authorize employment for their families. USCIS included elimination of OPT in both the 2018 Spring and Fall Administration's Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions. Experiential learning, OPT for international students, is a key component of U.S. higher education. Access to this opportunity attracts international students, and our competitor countries use their similar programs to attract students away from the United States.
     

Contact
Jill Allen Murray, Senior Director, Public Policy and Legislative Strategy
202.737.3699 x4410; jillam@nafsa.org

More Information

www.nafsa.org/internationalstudents


1 AILA Policy Brief: USIS Processing Delays Have Reached Crisis Levels Under the Trump Administration, January 30, 2019, https://www.aila.org/infonet/aila-policy-brief-uscis-processing-delays.