October 26, 2020
Acting Regulatory Unit Chief Sharon Hageman
Office of Policy and Planning
United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Department of Homeland Security
500 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20536
Re: DHS Docket No. ICEB-2019-0006
Dear Acting Chief Hageman:
On behalf of the Office of Global Engagement at Brown University, I write to submit this comment in strong opposition to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposal titled "Establishing a Fixed Time Period of Admission and an Extension of Stay Procedure for Nonimmigrant Academic Students, Exchange Visitors, and Representatives of Foreign Information Media” (the NPRM).
This proposal would adversely impact Brown University’s 1,964 international students and scholars on F-1 and J-1 visas, who are essential contributors to teaching and research at Brown and enrich our academic community through the experiences, expertise and perspectives they bring to campus. Not only would this rule undermine research-driven innovation and discovery across our nation, it would also exacerbate biases toward members of the international community, create increased and unwarranted bureaucracy, and inhibit the ability of U.S. higher education institutions from benefiting from the contributions of exceptionally talented students and scholars.
Outlined here are each of the ways in which this proposal would serve as a detriment to the global leadership of the U.S. and to the ability of international students and scholars to enrich research and teaching at American colleges and universities:
Undermining Innovation: Effectively, the NPRM would undermine the ability of the United States to benefit fully from the valuable contributions of international students and scholars in every sector of the economy, depriving the nation of their diverse cross-cultural perspectives, experiences and contributions. The impact of the unnecessary burdens created by the rule will extend well beyond international students and scholars, and the nation’s research institutions — it will inevitably slow research progress and economic development in health, medicine and many other fields at a time when the U.S. is responding to the COVID-19 global health emergency and seeks to increase its competitive advantage on a global scale.
Exacerbating Bias: Additionally, many faculty and students, both international and domestic, have expressed concerns about how the proposed rule could lead to intensified racism and xenophobia that students from Asian, African and Muslim-majority countries have experienced in the U.S. The potential negative impact of such attitudes and experiences deserves full consideration before any possible action is taken to implement such a policy.
Unwarranted Bureaucracy: Further, it would be more efficient and effective to review the current Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) system to identify opportunities for improvement, rather than creating a separate bureaucracy. The current regulations and policies provide the tools necessary to identify, investigate and address fraud and abuse concerns. The SEVIS system is comprehensive and proven in its ability to collect information for national security and oversight purposes. The newly proposed rule creates an unwarranted and duplicative bureaucracy without justification, and bypasses the important step of reviewing the existing SEVIS system to determine what may be missing or could be enhanced in the current process before instituting changes in duration of status. We strongly encourage a review of SEVIS before any new system is enacted.
Disproportionate Impact: Even more concerning is the proposed enactment of a two-year limited admission term for international students and scholars from a targeted list of countries. Enacting this restriction would have a disparate and disproportionate impact on students and scholars from more than 50 countries, primarily in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East as well as students and scholars from embargoed countries. This will affect more than 70 students and scholars at Brown alone, in addition to many thousands across the nation. Furthermore, the NPRM encroaches on the role of institutions of higher education to determine whether and when students should be allowed additional time to complete a degree. These decisions should continue to be made by academic institutions as they are fundamentally academic decisions — not the federal government.
Inhibiting Competitive Advantage: The numerous potential setbacks from the elimination of “duration of status” will have a wide-ranging negative impact on the ability of American universities to bring the most exceptionally talented international students to U.S. research institutions. Under the NPRM, international students and scholars would be required to file an extension of stay with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) at the end of their two- or four-year admission period. This new process would result in substantial additional filing fees, extended processing times and potential delays of F-1/J-1 benefits such as work authorization. Additionally, the proposed rule would shorten the 60-day grace period for F-1 visa holders to 30 days, similar to the current grace period for J-1 visa holders. In the evolving context of COVID-19 disruptions to the operations of U.S. higher education institutions, the changes detailed in the NPRM will only exacerbate the bureaucratic hurdles and uncertainty that international students face as they seek to resume and complete their studies in the United States.
Additionally, the proposed four-year and two-year limited admission terms that the NPRM proposes disregards the fact that selective research-intensive academic programs — especially dual-degree, medical and doctoral programs such as those at Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School, School of Public Health and Graduate School — require longer periods of study given the scientific rigor required to successfully complete studies and the long process of professional development in the respective fields.
During these extremely challenging times, Brown is more committed than ever to supporting international students and scholars, and their contributions to the University’s academic mission and research enterprise are irreplaceable. We are deeply concerned about the almost certain setback that the NPRM will have on our students and scholars, and underscore — with urgency — its detriments to the global leadership and competitiveness of the United States.
If the NPRM is allowed to stand, it will have deleterious effects on U.S. higher education institutions. It will deter highly educated international students trained at some of the leading U.S. institutions of higher education from entering the U.S. high-skilled workforce after graduation and adding expertise, knowledge, innovation and overall value to the U.S. What distinguishes the United States as a global leader in education and our economy is the global diversity and global readiness skills of our students and workforce.
Please accept this comment letter and consider our request to withdraw the NPRM in its entirety. The existing, current policy is effective, and this proposal will only serve to obstruct international students and scholars, weaken research, innovation and the broader American economy if it is allowed to proceed.
Asabe W. Poloma
Assistant Provost for Global Engagement