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USCIS Policy Guidance Eases Burden for Noncitizen College Students

International students have two less obstacles to navigate, after U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) today announced new policy guidance that eliminates the need for individuals who have applied for a change of status (COS) to F-1 student to apply to change or extend their nonimmigrant status while their initial F-1 COS application is pending.

Under the previous policy, applicants needed to maintain status up to 30 days before the program start date listed on their Form I-20, Certificate for Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, which required them to file extensions, or an initial COS and subsequent extensions ensuring that they would not have a “gap” in status.”

Additionally, USCIS said it would withdraw a Trump-era proposal to replace the duration of status admission period for F and J visa holders with a fixed time period status.

Under the “duration of status” policy, noncitizen students can stay in the United States for as long as they remain enrolled in college. The proposed rule would have required noncitizen higher education students to reapply for student visas after a fixed term of up to four years, and would have required students from Africa and parts of Asia to reapply after a two-year initial visa term.

In a July 6 notice in the Federal Register, the Department of Homeland Security said 99 percent of commenters opposed the proposed rule, stating, “the proposed rule would impose exorbitant costs and burdens on foreign students, scholars, and media representatives due to the direct cost of the extension of stay application fee, as well as the lost opportunity cost of not being able to begin their work on time if the extension were not adjudicated by the government in a timely fashion.”

Commenters also noted the potential impact to U.S. employers, “U.S. employers would be similarly burdened by the proposed changes because many noncitizens may not be able to apply for an extension of stay or have it approved in a timely fashion, thereby delaying the possible start dates of employees and/or cause them to lose potential job candidates.”

The rule withdrawal is in response to a February Executive Order from President Joe Biden – “Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans.” The Order asks the Secretary of Homeland Security to identify “barriers that impede access to immigration benefits.”

DHS said it will examine the proposed rule change in the context of President Biden’s Executive Order and may propose new changes to the F and J student visa programs.

FordMurray offers complimentary consultations to foreign student offices and in-house counsel for higher education institutions – contact us today if you have questions about how these policies impact your noncitizen students.