DHS Aims to Limit Stays for F and J Students and Scholars, Among Other Critical Changes

On September 25, 2020, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a proposed rule to eliminate duration of status (D/S) for F students and their dependents, J exchange visitors and their dependents, and I media representatives. This will increase the government’s oversight of foreign student and international exchange programs.

The oversight is currently vested in colleges and universities through Designated School Officials (DSOs). DSOs have reported the status of international students at their institutions and have had discretion to approve certain program extensions. The administration’s new rules would bring four critical changes to that tradition.

  1. Shortening the time students and exchange visitors can be in the U.S. Instead of being admitted for “duration of status” (i.e., as long as the educational program continues), the proposal ends status when the educational program ends (end-date noted in their Form I-20 or DS-2019). It also restricts an international student’s authorized stay in the U.S. to maximum periods of two or four years.

The two-year period applies to:

  • State sponsor of Terrorism List. Nationals of North Korea, Iran, Sudan and Syria, the four countries listed as state sponsors of terrorism by the current administration
  • School or exchange program not participating in E-VerifyInternational students and scholars who attend schools or exchange visitor programs that do not fully participate in the E-Verify program
  • Unaccredited schools (F-1 only).  International students and scholars who do not attend institutions accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by the Secretary of Education
  • U.S national interest.  DHS can determine that U.S. national interest warrants limiting admission of students who are enrolled in specific courses of study.
  • Countries with greater than a 10 percent rate of overstay. Citizens of countries with a student and exchange visitor total overstay rate of greater than 10 percent according to the most recent DHS Entry/Exit Overstay report
  1. Reducing the 60-day grace period to 30 days. The traditional grace period of authorized stay that international students receive after their program ends would be shortened to 30 days. During this time, international students in F status may prepare for departure, apply for extension or change of status, or otherwise maintain their status.
  2. Extending the F-1 cap gap for post-completion optional practical training (OPT) employment until April 1. Due to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) not adjudicating H-1B petitions in a timely manner, international students in OPT status may keep employment eligibility while waiting for their H-1B visa, until April 1 of the fiscal year for which the H-1B petition is filed.
  3. The proposal limits program changes for F-1 students. Students who complete one level of study (e.g. bachelor’s) can change to another program in the same educational level only twice, for a lifetime maximum of three same-level educational programs.
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