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Data Used to Justify Tight Time Limits for International Students May Be Faulty

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Who Is Counted in Overstay Rates?

The Trump administration has proposed limiting students from roughly 60 countries to two-year stays in the United States because of high visa-overstay rates.

Critics have challenged the approach of using overstay rates, noting that countries with tiny numbers of visitors to the U.S. can have exceptionally high rates, while top sending countries often have far larger numbers of actual overstays.

But new research questions the validity of government overstay rates in the first place. In a policy brief, the National Foundation for American Policy writes that the rate includes not just visa holders who have remained in the U.S. beyond the lawful period but those whose departures could not be verified by the Department of Homeland Security as well as some who may have lawfully changed status while in the country.

The overstay rates should not be seen as hard counts of overstays but rather as estimates of those individuals that the government could not identify as having left the United States, said Stuart Anderson, NFAP’s executive director. “You shouldn’t be using a figure for policy purposes when it’s not even clear what it’s measuring.”

The government’s own data shows that, in 2018, the suspected in-country overstay rate declined by more than half over 12 months, from 2.11 percent to 0.84 percent. (In-country overstays are individuals who have no recorded departure from the U.S., while out-of-country overstays are those who left after their authorized period of admission expired.) This suggests that the overstay problem “solves itself over time” or that DHS systems “catch up” and identify visa holders who have left or who remain legally, the report states, noting that former officials have acknowledged gaps in reporting.

Over the past four years, annual overstay rates for international students have been dropping, although it’s unclear if that trend represents a change in student behavior or improved record-keeping.

The provision would affect countries with student-and-exchange-visitor overstay rates of 10 percent or higher and would include three nations — Vietnam, Nigeria, and Nepal — that rank among the top 20 sources of international students in the U.S. It is part of a broader rule change that would impose fixed time limits, typically of four years, on visas, rather than allowing students to remain in the U.S. until they complete their studies.

Even if overstay rates are a problem, Anderson questions whether the regulation — which would require students to file for extensions to stay in the country to earn their degree — is the right fix. There are more-targeted ways to address the issue, such as increasing notifications to students deemed to be more likely to overstay, he said. “It’s a completely disproportionate response.”

In other developments, a pair of Democratic lawmakers, Debbie Dingell of Michigan and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, are circulating a “Dear Colleague” letter opposing the regulation.

In a draft, the representatives write, “The changes place additional burdens on students and universities and disincentivize prospective international students from attending U.S. institutions of higher education.” Members of Congress have until close-of-business Monday to sign onto the letter.

Two information sessions are planned on the rule change. The Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration and World Education Services will host a rapid-response briefingthis Wednesday at 1 p.m. And NAFSA plans a town hall to discuss the proposal on October 13. Registration for the event has already reached capacity, but a recording will be posted on the association’’s website.

Tell me your take on the proposed rule. I’m at latitudesnews@gmail.com, or on Twitter or LinkedIn.

The Trump administration was dealt two legal setbacks at the hand of a single federal judge last week. Judge Jeffrey S. White, of northern California, blocked fee hikes for processing temporary work permits and other visa-related documents. The fee increases had been scheduled to take effect on Friday and could have increased the cost of filing for an employment authorization by 20 percent. In a separate ruling, White stopped the administration from implementing a June executive order that suspended the issuance of temporary worker and cultural exchange visas. The president had argued that such restrictions were needed to preserve jobs for Americans during the pandemic. The ruling applies to plaintiffs in the case, such as U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and their members. You can hear me on NPR talking about the impact of the skilled worker ban of American science and education.

Curbing Foreign Students a ‘Mistake’

Making it more difficult for international students and researchers to come to the United States is a “big mistake,” said Robert Gates, secretary of defense in the Obama and George W. Bush administrations. Speaking at an event organized by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, Gates, a former president of Texas A&M, heralded the disproportionate impact of international students around the globe, noting that they often return home and share their experience studying in the U.S. with family and friends.

Gates acknowledged the potential security risks posed by some students and scientists from overseas and called for greater dialog between universities and national-security agencies to define areas where close monitoring is needed.

Still, Gates said he was concerned about the “obstacles created by the political environment.” Too many students, he said, “have concluded they’re not welcome.”

Relatedly…

  • A White House official said Trump administration was taking a “surgical approach” in its restrictions on Chinese students and researchers, and that the vast majority were welcome to study in the U.S.
  • Chinese graduate students in Britain could be subject to additional vetting and be prohibited from studying certain sensitive subjects.
  • The U.S. government issued guidance about foreign nationals who could be denied admission to the country based on Communist Party membership.
  • A top artificial intelligence researcher will leave UCLA to set up a new institute in Beijing.

Around the Globe

Dreamers report heightened anxiety because of covid and DACA’s uncertain future. But undocumented students are also determined to continue their studies, a new survey finds.

Two students from Sierra Leone were killed in an Ohio car crash and two others were injured in the accident.

A CUNY student is being detained in Egypt on charges that include “spreading false news,” “disturbing public security,” and “belonging to a terrorist organization.” Supporters say he is being held because of his political activism.

A professor in Vietnam was arrested for “slandering” a local Communist Party official.

Indian universities have been ordered to freeze positions and halt new hiring because of the economic crisis.

Russia’s higher-education system is seriously underfunded, according to a government study.

The UAE revoked operating licenses for six universities because of failure to meet quality and accreditation standards and put six more on probation.

Officials in Hong Kong and mainland China are calling for more “patriotic education” to instill pride in and duty to country.

China wants to accelerate development of its vocational and technical education system.

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And finally…

Have time for a couple of deep dives? Eric Fish takes a look at University of Michigan roommates charged with espionage for photographing a naval air station. Did a combination of poor English, cultural misunderstanding, and heightened American sensitivity lead to unwarranted suspicions of the two Chinese students? Meanwhile, students studying remotely from China must deal with routine headaches like spotty wifi and the adjustment to asynchronous learning. They also have to worry about censorship and running afoul of local security laws. In the Chronicle, I wrote about how online instruction has led to new concerns about surveillance — and fears that Chinese restrictions on academic freedom could be felt in American classrooms.

’Til next week — Karin

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