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In withdrawing a Trump-era visa-rule change, the Biden administration notes overwhelming opposition to the proposal. Plus, a group of college and business leaders call for safeguarding university research against national-security threats.

99 to 1

It’s officially official: In a notice published in Tuesday’s Federal Register, the Biden administration announced its withdrawal of a Trump-era rule change that would have imposed strict time limits on student visas.

The administration had already declared its intent to pull the proposed regulation, as I reported a couple of weeks ago. Still, there were a few new nuggets in the Federal Register that I wanted to highlight:

  • Of the more than 32,000 comments received by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 99 percent opposed the rule change.
  • The few commenters who supported the regulation said they believed it would deter illegal immigration, protect U.S. workers, and stop espionage.
  • But the Biden administration said that the comments in opposition to the proposed change “may be justified,” including worries that it would “significantly burden” students by requiring them to apply for an extension of stay to continue their studies. The proposal would also run counter to a presidential proclamation, issued in February by President Biden, that instructs the Secretary of Homeland Security to identify barriers that impede access to immigration benefits. (Student visas, of course, are not immigrant visas.)
  • The notice leaves the door open to future rulemaking, albeit consistent with goals of reducing barriers around visas.

In a statement, Esther D. Brimmer, NAFSA’s executive director, commended the administration for withdrawing what she called a “poorly conceived rule.”

But Brimmer also used the opportunity to press the Biden administration to make further policy changes to “make the United States a more welcoming place for international students and scholars,” among them, making international-student and scholar outreach a priority for the U.S. Department of State, changing student-visa policy to permit dual intent for applicants, and creating a path to permanent residency for international graduates of U.S. colleges.

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Business-Higher Ed Group Calls for Safeguarding Research

A group of university and business leaders are calling for a “balanced and appropriate” strategy for safeguarding U.S. research and technology while promoting global cooperation and collaboration.

“Scientific research and the engagement therein of foreign students, faculty and researchers serves the United States’ national interest both from an economic and national security perspective,” says the statement, signed by more than 40 members of the Council on Competiteness. Central to the U.S. research enterprise is a “robust and rational” visa system.

Yet, the authors also note that there is a “real and evolving threat” to American research from both foreign-state actors and individual researchers and students who seek to take advantage of the open nature and transparency of the U.S. research enterprise.

The council’s statement proposes a number of steps that both academe and government can take to maintain the balance between international collaboration and national security.

Universities and other recipients of research funding should:

Be transparent about foreign ties and potential conflicts of interest.

Develop training programs for faculty and students to familiarize them with the potential of outside influence and for managing data and intellectual property.

Create research security working groups on cybersecurity, foreign travel security, insider threat awareness and education, export control, and management of intellectual property.

Screen foreign faculty, students, and visitors for restricted individuals or associations with restricted entities. 

Set up a process for reviewing and managing institutional agreements, memorandums of understanding and similar formal contracts with foreign entities.

The federal government should:

Hold open forums to discuss new or amended regulations.

Give adequate notice and implementation time for rule changes to minimize confusion among faculty and staff and for questions and comments to be resolved.

Coordinate policy for foreign influence across federal agencies.

Prioritize regulatory action for countries identified as security threats. 

Cheating During the Pandemic

In an essay in Slate, an anonymous author dishes about taking a job ghostwriting college papers after being laid off during the pandemic. The work was lucrative, but it also revealed some unexpected hard truths about why students cheat: Yes, there are some privileged students too lazy to do their own work, but others are part time students or single parents trying to juggle assignments with a crush of other obligations. Some were struggling with schoolwork while fighting pandemic depression or had lost loved ones. And others are international students:

A few clients from China told me they could crush any American in calculus, but when it came to writing an English essay for their American lit class, they were at a major disadvantage, especially when COVID began and they went back to China.

The university writing centers that many relied on closed or moved online, but time zone differences meant it was tough to get the help they needed. When faced with the prospect of getting a poor mark or cheating, they chose the latter.

Earlier in the pandemic, I wrote about how colleges were adjusting their teaching and academic support services to serve international students forced to study online. I’d really like to hear about all that you’ve learned: What worked and didn’t work? Are there lessons you’ll take beyond the pandemic to better meet the academic needs of international students?

Email me, and please include the best way to reach you so I can follow up in my reporting. Speaking of keeping in touch, you can reach me at that address with story tips, questions, and feedback.

And for the latest news and updates between editions, follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Around the Globe

Fitch Ratings warns of a “fragile international enrollment environment” in its latest outlook for American colleges. 

The State Department will extend validity of the national-interest exemption that permits students from China, India, Europe, and other countries with travel restrictions to come to the U.S. for 12 months from approval. 

Yemeni students dealing with severe economic hardship will be permitted to have emergency work authorization.

The Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration is contesting a motion to dismiss its amicus brief by a group of technology workers suing the U.S. government to try to end Optional Practical Training, the work program for international students. 

China’s government is urging the U.S. to reconsider visa denials to students who attended universities that are said to have ties to the Chinese military.

French senators have begun a parliamentary inquiry into foreign states’ influence in the country’s universities.

Australian universities are wrestling with how to comply with a new law that requires government oversight over some overseas academic partnerships and contracts.

The German government will spend $28 million over the next four years to develop “independent China competence” at domestic research institutes and universities, a move seen as a counter to the influence of Confucius Institutes.

In a document outlining a potential partnership with the United Arab Emirates, the University of Cambridge highlights some potential risks, including a “values gap.” 

Covid rules on masks, face-to-face teaching, and social distancing will end in English universities next week.

Student-recruitment agents are raising concerns about a plan for IDP to buy the India operations of IELTS, the English-language test, saying it could be anti-competitive.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is denying that his government has restricted academic freedom at any of the country’s universities.

A law student detained in Belarus with her boyfriend, a dissident journalist, graduated in absentia from European Humanities University. 

WeChat has shut down the accounts of LGBTQ college groups

And finally…

Getting to college, we’re often told, requires smarts and determination. But that’s not the whole truth. What’s true in Kenya is true in China, the United States, and everywhere else: The admissions realm is divided between insiders and outsiders, applicants who understand the rules and applicants who don’t even know the rules exist. The most vulnerable students, who often must navigate an opaque application process without a guide, become more vulnerable still when trying to leap from one life to another. 

If you haven’t read Eric Hoover’s piece about a refugee in Kenya who dreamt of an American education, well, do.

’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.