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Two Provisions to Watch

The new immigration bill, known formally at the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, provides legal protections to Dreamers and makes it easier for international STEM PhDs to stay in the country after graduation. But the 353-page measure — not exactly light reading! — also contains two other provisions that could significantly affect international students.

Dual intent. The bill would permit what’s known as “dual intent.” Right now, student-visa applicants have to promise they do not plan to stay in the U.S. after graduation — that is, they have a single intent only, to study. The reasoning for this prohibition is that F-1 visas are nonimmigrant visas.

Why this matters: Consular officers’ suspicions that applicants want to stay in the U.S. beyond their studies is far and away the biggest reason for student-visa denials. Prior to the pandemic, about a quarter of all student-visa applications were denied. In nine out of 10 nonimmigrant visa denials, the reason cited is applicant intent. Certainly, not all students want to stay in the U.S. after they get their degrees, but some do, and this provision — it’s section 3408, for those of you following along — would allow them to be upfront about their plans.

The OPT extension. International students on optional practical training, the post-graduate work program, who have applied for green cards will be eligible to have their F-1 visa status extended and get continued employment authorization to keep working while they wait for approval.

Why this matters: As I wrote about a few weeks ago, international graduates frequently have to “buy time” on H1-B skilled-worker visas until they can gain permanent residency. Recent research found that nearly eight in 10 STEM doctorates from India and two-thirds of those from China are on H1-Bs as they wait for green cards. This provision (section 3410) would allow graduates on the path to residency, many of whom have specialized skills, to skip what is often a costly step; it also would reduce uncertainty about their status. A “university green card,” one observer dubbed the potential change.

What next: House Democratic leaders have said they want to take up the bill quickly, perhaps within the next few weeks. But even before legislation was introduced, there was skepticism that broad immigration reform could be passed and that components might need to be addressed piecemeal. The bottom line for international students: Until the bill becomes law, we don’t know exactly who the provisions will apply to or when they will take effect. 

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International Students & Covid Aid

Will international and undocumented students be eligible for financial assistance in the latest round of Covid-19 relief?

It likely will be up to the Biden administration. A provision in the House version of the bill would have permitted colleges to decide which of their students qualify for emergency grants, but it was removed from the legislation for procedural reasons. The bill passed the House early Saturday.

Previous stimulus packages had left it to to the U.S. Department of Education to set the rules for allocating assistance, and the Trump administration excluded international and undocumented students from aid, saying that such help should go only to citizens. 

The Biden administration has not said what it would do, but as Inside Higher Ed’s Kery Murakami notes, there’s reason to think that officials might be open to a more inclusive approach:

Study-Abroad Coverage

This week is the Forum on Education Abroad’s annual conference, and I’m looking forward to dipping into sessions. Follow me on Twitter for takeaways (the meeting hashtag is #ForumEA21) and drop me a line with your recommendations for coverage.

I’m always open to advice, insights, and feedback. In addition to Twitter, you can find me on LinkedIn or email me at

New Research on Returnees & Work

A foreign degree or credential once provided Chinese graduates with a “distinctive advantage” in the job market, but as more students return from overseas, its impact is now more mixed, according to a new paper.

Researchers at Australia’s Deakin University conducted interviews with employers, policymakers, and graduates themselves. They found that job applicants educated overseas may be prized for their foreign-language skills, independence, global outlook, and capacity to learn.

Yet, employers expressed concern about foreign graduates’ lack of localized knowlege and unfamiliarity with Chinese work culture. They also said returnees might have unrealistic expectations about salary or duties and worried that ambitious graduates could use them as stepping stone to another position.

And foreign-educated workers simply are more commonplace, the authors said, noting a 132-percent increase in returnees over a five-year period. They recommend that colleges focus more on employability and job placement for international graduates and on fostering stronger alumni connections. After all, they write:

“Employment outcomes are increasingly considered the most important form of return on investment in overseas study other than residency.”

That’s true for all international students, not just those from China.

Related reading: This study, by Mingyu Chen, a postdoc at Princeton, explored Chinese employers’ perceptions of U.S. graduates. He found that graduates of American universities were less likely to get a callback than those educated in China — even if they attended a more selective institution. And I took a deep dive into international-student employability, looking at students who returned home and those who sought work in America. The upshot: Whether students stay or go, the post-graduate path can be a difficult one.

Around the Globe

After an outcry over significant delays in processing of OPT paperwork, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced temporary flexibility for applicants. Students had filed suit over lengthy weight times.

Two Chinese students have sued the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, saying college officials ignored a professor’s sexual abuse because they didn’t want to jeopardize international-tuition revenue.

Differences in scores of just a couple points on China’s gaokao can have a lasting impact on elite-college access and wages.

Trustees at the University of South Carolina voted to close the college’s Confucius Institute, a language and cultural center funded by the Chinese government.

Congressional Democrats are asking the FBI and NIH for documents from their investigations into Chinese influence on American research out of concern the agencies may be targeting ethnically Chinese scientists 

A visiting Chinese researcher accused of visa fraud faces new charges of obstruction.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has called for increasing National Science Foundation funding to better compete with China.

A bill proposed by a GOP congresswoman would block U.S. colleges from receiving federal funds if they have Chinese partnerships.

The Indian government dropped demands that universities get permission before holding virtual events that touch on sensitive subjects, but the approval process will still apply to in-person events.

Siberian students claim they were offered money and academic benefits to promote the ruling United Russia party.

Human-rights groups are calling for the release of an imprisoned Indian professor who is ill with Covid.

Quebec’s premier says he wants to protect campus speech at the Canadian province’s universities rom “woke” ideas.

Chinese University of Hong Kong has cut ties with its student union citing the new national-security law.

The simmering competition over English-proficiency testing has been heating up thanks to the pandemic.

And finally…

There isn’t that much to celebrate during lockdown, but one development I think we can cheer — or cheers — is the forthcoming book from Philipp Stelzel, an associate professor of history at Dusquene. Stelzel announced last week that he was under contract to write a cocktail guide for academics. Those who can’t wait can check out the Twitter thread that served as his book pitch:

Among the recipes, “The inevitable Campus Shutdown,” “The Self-Isolation Productivity Angst,” and “The Remote Instructor,” which features gin, a splash of grenadine, and “tart” cranberry juice.

’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.