Washington Update

FASEB Discourages DHS Changes to F/J Visa Programs

By: Tianlu Ma
Wednesday, November 4, 2020

On October 15, FASEB responded to a notice of proposed rulemaking issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regarding changes to the F and J visa programs. These visa programs allow international academic students (F) and visiting postdoctoral scholars (J) to pursue research opportunities in the U.S. FASEB urged DHS not to proceed with the proposed changes, stating that the added uncertainty and burdens will undermine the U.S. research enterprise.

Because the proposed rule suggests modifying the visa program to a fixed time period not exceeding four years, FASEB’s response emphasized the impact of the proposed rule in discouraging talented international students from pursuing a doctoral degree in the U.S. Currently, visa holders are admitted to the U.S. for a “duration of status,” or as long as they comply with the terms of their nonimmigrant categories. Given that the average time to complete a PhD in the U.S. is 5.8 years, according to the National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates, the proposed rule may require nearly every international PhD student to apply for extensions, with no guarantee of approval and further delaying time to degree.

FASEB also highlighted the significant expenses that would accompany proposed changes to the visa extension process. Under current regulations, international students and postdoctoral scholars apply for extensions through their Designated School Officials or Alternate or Responsible Officers. However, in addition to this, the proposed rule would require visa holders wishing to extend their stay to also apply for an extension with DHS, significantly increasing the time and costs associated with fulfilling requirements. Considering the financial stress already faced by trainees, the proposed rule could pose additional administrative and financial burdens for students and postdoctoral scholars living on limited stipends.

Finally, in response to the proposed change to place a lifetime limit on the number of educational programs in which F nonimmigrant students can enroll, FASEB highlighted how restrictive access to transdisciplinary education could stifle innovation and further discourage international students from pursuing and conducting research in the U.S.

Comment period for the proposed rule closed on October 26 and received more than 32,000 comments. The full docket can be viewed here.