Universities Up in Arms Against Trump’s New US Student Visa Policy


As many as 65 top American universities, including MIT and Harvard, have challenged the Trump administration in the court against its new US student visa policy for international students, a report by News18 said. The higher education system board and leading higher education institutes, majority of which are also the member institutions of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, signed a joint amicus brief last Monday.

The brief urges the federal court to award them a motion for an initial injunction, arguing that the new ruling by the Trump administration puts foreign students in a position where they have to make “tough choices”. These universities have warned that the new ‘backdating’ rule will have a detrimental impact on the higher education system of the country, putting the future of international scholars at risk in the US.

This joint brief argues that the new policies related to the “backdated unlawful-presence clock” can render thousands of F, J and M categories foreign visa holders to either a three or a 10-year re-entry ban, without any prospects for battling this injustice. The brief also elucidates how the new backdating ruling can lead to uncertainty in relation to the calculation of unlawful presence, exposing foreign students to detrimental re-entry bans.

The brief states that in a few cases, full-time or exchange students can also fall in the out-of-status category due to clerical or technical errors. In many cases, the violation will not be exposed (or determined, as the F, M, and J regulations are not always clear and may be subject to varying interpretations) until the individual reapplies for another immigration assistance, like an optional practical training allowance or an H-1B visa, the brief added.

The new visa policy that was announced by Trump in August imposed new restrictions in relation to overstaying by an individual after the expiration of their visa. Under the old immigration policies of the country, when an individual was no longer sanctioned to stay in the country, that was when their visa expired and a period of “unlawful presence” started. Just after six months of unlawful presence, an individual was forced to return back to their home country and were subjected to a three-year entry ban from the US.

Previously, individuals only began to accrue unlawful presence the day after an official determination was issued by the government declaring the visa holder was “out of status”. However, under the new rules, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can now set retroactive start dates for unlawful presence which will begin a day after an individual completes his degree programme or the day after their visa date expires.

According to John J DeGioia, President Georgetown University and Presidents’ Alliance Steering Committee Member, “International students and scholars are vital members of our campus communities and important contributors to our nation.” According to the National Association of Foreign Student Advisors (NAFSA), international students have contributed almost $39 billion to the US economy during the academic year 2017-2018. The same study also revealed that the economic activities of international students in US has supported over 455,000 American jobs in the last few years.

Numerous other studies indicate that a number of international students and scholars continue to contribute to the US economy beyond their periods of enrolment. For instance according to the findings of a study about American start-up companies valued over $1 billion or more, almost a quarter among these start-ups had at least one international student as their founder, highlighting how important international enrolments are for economic progressions.

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