Editorial: Protect duration of status for international students

DHS Proposed Rule Editorial Cartoon

On Sept. 25, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed a rule that would impose “fixed” limits on the length of time that international students and scholars are permitted to study in the United States. This rule would eliminate the current “duration of status” framework, in which international students are allowed to remain in the United States until they have completed their studies or research programs. On behalf of the university, President Anthony Monaco and Provost Nadine Aubry wrote a letter urging the DHS to reconsider these proposed changes.

This is not the first time that the DHS has made active efforts to hinder international students’ ability to pursue an education in the United States. In July, the Trump administration tried to bar international students from continuing their academic coursework within the United States if their institutions decided to operate in an online-only capacity. This effort was promptly rescinded following swift legal pushback from a number of prominent universities, including Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The implementation of this proposed rule would upend international students’ academic careers and ultimately hinder intellectual and economic development in the United States. Its arbitrary restrictions represent yet another governmental attempt to exclude international students from this country’s universities and industries, revealing a larger, long-standing pattern of xenophobia. The Daily stands with international students and urges the DHS to reconsider this rule and preserve the duration of status framework for international students.

International students bring immense value to this nation and Tufts’ campus. With the enhancement of the intellectual and cultural vitality of academic spaces, they provide our community with knowledge and innovation. International students are also essential to fostering a more competitive and prosperous economy; in 2018, international students contributed $45 billion to the U.S. economy. The proposed rule would present significant barriers to international students in continuing their studies and research in the United States, effectively curtailing academic advancement and economic development.

Beyond stifling this country’s academic, economic and cultural growth, this rule would sever international students’ robust interpersonal ties, essential to both their college experiences and the Tufts community as a whole. Like all students, international students forge close relationships with other community members and enrich student life on the Hill; the rigidity and uncertainty created by this rule threatens to endanger these bonds.

First-year student Charlotte Ko expressed her concern about the potential time constraints of the proposed guidelines, explaining the uncertainty surrounding the impact that this rule may have on the growing relationships she has formed at Tufts.

“If I can’t be here, I can’t be part of the community,” Ko said. “It will feel like I’m always on the outside looking in, looking over my shoulder to be in compliance.”

Instating a strict time limit for international students and scholars to remain in the United States is also unrealistic. As Monaco and Aubry wrote in their letter, the proposed policy assumes that learning occurs on a fixed schedule. This is far from the reality. International students participate in research, internships and independent projects that often span the course of many semesters. In addition, some academic programs, “including joint, dual and combined undergraduate and undergraduate/graduate degrees, professional degrees, and Ph.D. degrees,” require more than four years to complete. Learning does not operate on a “fixed” schedule; it is a dynamic process that often requires follow-ups, extensions and reevaluations. As a result, eliminating the duration of stay rule would significantly hinder international students’ and their institutions’ academic growth, halting progress in its tracks.

Most glaringly, the proposed rule is discriminatory. As Monaco and Aubry stated in their letter to the DHS, the rule unfairly targets students and scholars originating “from economically developing and disadvantaged areas,” including those determined to have “high visa overstay” rates. Low income international students already must overcome a multitude of barriers in order to study at Tufts; this rule will only intensify these obstacles, as it reduces low income students’ access to many academic programs. In effect, this would dilute diverse cultural perspectives in academic work and, perhaps more importantly, reduce vital opportunities for this group.

International students are an irreplaceable part of the Tufts community; their knowledge and relationships undoubtedly better our campus and this country. Not only will the proposed rule result in an incredible loss of opportunity, but it will ultimately fragment communities integral to the growth of this country. We call upon academic institutions across the country to take an active role in challenging the implementation of fixed time limits and protecting duration of status for international students. International students’ futures, and the vital contributions they offer to this country’s intellectual and economic institutions, depend upon it.