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I sifted through comments on the proposed rule to limit international students’ time in the U.S. Here’s what I found.

As of Friday, 22,000 individuals or groups have weighed in on a rule change that would impose strict two- or four-year limits on the time international students can study in the United States. While there’s still another week before the comment period closes, I wondered what we could learn from the feedback that’s already been shared. A few observations:

Opposition to the rule greatly outweighs those who favor the change. Even when I filtered the comments by the keyword “support,” people writing that they did not support the new regulation outnumbered those who did by about three to one.

Backers of the proposed rule cited fears that international students would take American jobs — and concerns about Chinese Communist Party. ”We should maintain the capability to control who can stay in the U.S., not only who can enter. Especially students from China,” wrote one anonymous commenter. “Most of them are brainwashed to become strong, blind supporters of CCP. These people are really harmful to the free world.”

I found this argument interesting because, unlike some more recent Trump administration orders and executive actions, the rule change doesn’t single out China. Others echoed the stated rationale for the regulation, that too many students overstay their visas: “Students come here and simply disappear and nothing happens….The U.S. has been too lax about foreign students. I totally support having them accountable.” (For more on visa overstay rates, check out this recent newsletter.)

Opposition to the new regulation is organized. I read quite a few statements drafted from a common template: “By submitting this comment, I am expressing my opposition to this proposed rule. The proposal would severely damage….”

But many commenters took the time to share a personal perspective. “The approval of this policy may force me to give up my dream of studying in the U.S.,” wrote one student. Another made the case for why hard-and-fast visa terms could be a problem: “I have changed my major from Computer Science to Information Systems, which means that I may not able to complete my degree in the expected semester term. The new fixed time period regulation doesn’t consider the flexibility of the time needed to obtain a degree as a student.”

Some American students offered support for their classmates: “I am an American Ph.D. student and have worked and studied with hundreds of international students for almost a decade now. Every international student I have known is already under constant pressure to follow the rules and maintain their status that allows them to be in the U.S.”

Some of the statements argued that the regulation would interfere with academic decisionmaking. One commenter called the especially stringent lifetime limits on visas for English-language study “arbitrary and unfair,” pointing out that some students take longer to learn English for educational or cultural reasons. An international student advisor wrote that the proposed rule “undermines my job and would be so time consuming that I would have no other time to do anything else beneficial to students during the rest of my job, such as programming and welcoming and cultural activities.

Others emphasized the broader consequences, particularly to American competitiveness. “Put simply, this proposed rule will contribute directly to the loss of U.S. leadership in science,” wrote a biomedical engineer at a top research university. “The potential disruption to my research productivity and much of that in U.S. academic institutions by the contemplated change from duration of status, which will surely jeopardize the current and future pool of excellent international students who are a vital part of our research engine, is, in a word, disastrous.”

Still, few commenters appeared to weigh in from outside higher ed. I spotted a handful of remarks from the broader community, like the college town landlord who expressed his opposition because “this rule will make me lose a great amount of money.” But when I searched for comments from employers, local governments, and other outside groups, I largely came up short.

Why does that matter? In other instances — most recently this summer, with the government’s quick reversal of a policy change on remote learning — international students and colleges have benefitted from the support of a broader coalition. Ironically, the proposed rule will likely affect more students than that earlier measure, but as one veteran administrator noted to me, when the central issue is visa length, “for people outside of higher ed, it’s not likely to garner headlines and rally the troops.”

Congress, however, could be a source of support: Republican lawmakers in the House are circulating a “Dear Colleague” letter opposing the proposed rule.

An earlier letter was signed by roughly 100 Democratic members of Congress.

Have feedback to what you read here or have ideas for future coverage? I’m all ears. Email your ideas to or find me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

China Threatens Retaliation

The Chinese government is warning American officials that if they go forward with prosecutions of Chinese researchers affiliated with the military, they could engage in tit-for-tat detentions of Americans, the Wall Street Journal reports.

According to the Journal, Chinese authorities began issuing the warnings after a spate of arrests of Chinese scientists in the U.S. this summer, on charges that include concealing their military affiliations on visa applications.

You can read more about the U.S. government’s scrutiny of higher ed’s China ties here. Meanwhile, last week the U.S. Secretaries of State and Education sent a joint letter to college leaders, warning them of the threat from China.

Link Between Study Abroad and Jobs

A new report from NAFSA and Emsi, a global labor-market consulting firm, highlights the employment and workforce benefits of education abroad. While few employers specifically seek out applicants who have studied abroad, more than 31 million job openings require skills that students pick up while overseas and especially value them in management and leadership positions, the report found.

The NAFSA/Emsi analysis of job postings specifically looked at global skills, such as intercultural awareness, global perspectives, and knowledge of a foreign language. But it also included a host of soft skills, like critical thinking, independence, and problem solving. The challenge is that while those skills are developed through study abroad, they’re not exclusively so — which can complicate the employability case for education abroad.

Want to go deeper on this important topic? I recommend following Marty Tillman who, along with colleagues, has written the book — or books — on education abroad and career development.

Yes, It’s Bad

Updated data from the National Student Clearinghouse paints a bleaker picture of international enrollments than initial figures earlier this fall. With just over half of colleges reporting, undergraduate enrollments are down nearly 14 percent, while graduate enrollments have fallen almost 8 percent. International students saw the biggest enrollment declines of any demographic group.

Source: National Student Clearinghouse

For World Politics Review, I wrote about how American colleges came to be so dependent on international students — and why the pandemic might not be the biggest long-term threat to overseas enrollments.

Around the Globe

Since the beginning of the semester, 150 students have been detained in Belarus.

This excellent Twitter thread underscores how hard it can be to get an accurate count of Chinese STEM students at American colleges — and how people overestimate their numbers.

Two Alabama universities say their Confucius Institutes operate free from Chinese interference after a congressman called for their closure.

More than a quarter of all students enrolled in American colleges are immigrants or children of immigrants, according to a new report.

In a worst-case scenario, Canadian universities could lose $3.4 billion in the 2020 academic year because of covid.

Universities UK has published guidance for higher-education institutions on dealing with foreign interference and threats to academic freedom.

A proposed law could undercut university autonomy and academic freedom in Ghana.

Students have taken to the streets in mass pro-democracy demonstrations in Thailand.

Indonesian officials are warning students not to join nationwide protests.

More than 100 scholars from around the world have signed a statement criticizing Hong Kong’s new national-security law.

Thousands of articles from a website run by jailed Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti have been restored.

China’s Ministry of Education has ordered top universities to teach courses on “Xi Jinping thought.”

The pressures to publish or perish have led some female professors in China to put off starting families, a study found.

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And finally…

As a young lawyer, Michele R. Pistone was part of a team helping Donald Trump restructure his debts as his Atlantic City casinos hemorrhaged money. But her pro bono work soon steered her work in a different direction, aiding immigrants and asylum seekers. Now the professor of law at Villanova has started a new program, certifying students to become legal advocates for migrants and refugees. Read more about the program, believed to be the first online, university-based training program for immigrant advocates.

’’Til next week — Karin

A freelance journalist and expert on global issues in higher ed, Karin has been writing for more than a decade about the changing relationship between American colleges and the world.