USA considering annual student visa renewals

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is considering changes to the student visa system, reportedly including proposals to make overseas students renew their visa status on an annual basis.

The claims were first made in the Washington Post, which said that senior DHS officials discussed the idea last week.


DHS Spokesperson David Lapan declined to comment on the specifics of the discussions on Friday [July 7] but confirmed to StudyTravel Magazine that the international student programme is one of many under review.


"DHS is exploring a variety of measures that ensure that our immigration programmes - including programmes for international students studying in the United States - operate in a manner that promotes the national interest, enhances national security and public safety, and ensures the integrity of our immigration system."


A U.S. Federal Official said that all proposals are at a very preliminary stage and that only discussions are taking place.


Under present rules, international students' immigration status is valid as long as they are enrolled in a certified school and abide by U.S. laws and regulations.


Any changes to the duration of status would require a regulatory change, the official said, meaning DHS would have to draft and submit a proposed new rule to the Unified Agenda for ultimate publication in the Federal Register, a process that typically takes two-to-three years to complete, and a minimum of 18 months under unusually speedy conditions.


It was suggested that there was some concern about the sheer amount of paperwork that would be involved in requiring students to renew their status every year.


In the most recent Sevis by the Numbers report released by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), there were 1.18 million international students enrolled on F-1 or M-1 visas in the country as of May this year, an increase of two per cent compared with the same period of 2016.


No indications of fees for annual renewal have been given at this stage, but it is likely that the cumulative cost would be greater than the current payments required: US$200 for the I-901 SEVIS Fee and the initial US$160 visa application charge.


The official also advised that other options were also under consideration, including definite end dates for programmes, so that students would have to apply for an extension to undertake a further course of study such as a master's degree, or would have need a visa extension if a programme was not completed within the allotted timeframe.


System changes are reportedly being discussed due to concerns regarding open-ended visa arrangements. A DHS Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 Entry/Exit Overstay Report, published in May, found that 79,818 students on either F-1 (academic), M-1 (vocational) or J-1 (exchange) visas overstayed, a rate of 5.48 per cent.


The proposals are likely to be unpopular with the international education sector in the USA, which reacted has reacted negatively over recent months to President Trump's Executive Order to ban travel from six Middle East countries. A recent Supreme Court decision allowed for partial implementation of the policy until a full hearing in October.


Jill Welch, Deputy Executive Director for Public Policy for NAFSA: Association of International Educators, told the Washington Post that asking students to reapply for visas each year would be "duplicative and unnecessary".


"Generations of foreign policy leaders agree that international students are an asset to our nation, not a threat," she said. "We urge the Department of Homeland Security to consult carefully with stakeholders like NAFSA who have worked for decades to protect our security and increase our economic prosperity before making any rash decisions that can have potentially irreversible consequences."



By Matthew Knott

News Editor