SPIE urges US to reconsider proposed changes to length of stay for international students

The Society is encouraging the optics and photonics community to contribute individual comments
22 October 2020
SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, has urged the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to rescind a proposed rule limiting the duration of status for international students. The Society is also calling on its members to submit their individual comments.

SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, has urged the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to rescind a proposed rule limiting the duration of status for international students. The Society is also calling on its members to submit their individual comments.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) by DHS, issued on 25 September and entitled "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," limits the duration of status for international student visas. This would, as SPIE and peer organizations point out, place a significant burden on the US immigration system, would slow the US economy, and cause detrimental harm to American universities.

In its comment, SPIE expresses its overarching concern that the proposed rule change would discourage top students from around the world from studying in the US: "This would not only have a negative impact on American universities," notes SPIE, "but it would also inhibit what is often the start on a pathway for these scientists to stay and contribute to the innovation ecosystem in the United States."

Specifically, the rule establishes fixed terms of either two or four years for international students in F status and exchange visitors in J status  in which to complete their degrees and research. The average PhD student can take up eight years to complete their degree, while the average time to earn a bachelor's degree is closer to five years. This new rule would require students to reapply during their course of study, leading to delays in degree completion and a larger workload for the US immigration system. In the 2018-2019 academic year alone, international students contributed more than $40 billion to the US economy.

"As the United States looks forward to building the workforce of the future," the SPIE comment points out, "a healthy pipeline of skilled scientists will be vital if the US is to lead in areas such as quantum, AI, and advanced communications. Making changes that discourage migration of international scientists to the US at this time does not make sense when looking at the long-term goals of advancement in key areas of science and technology."

"SPIE supports policies that encourage the global mobility of STEM students including international students' ability to pursue their studies at US universities," notes SPIE CEO Kent Rochford. "Not only are these young scientists a clear benefit to the US economy, they bring innovative and global perspectives to our universities. Any policy that hinders these students' ability to complete their studies here puts the US at a disadvantage as well as damaging our standing as an international leader in terms of nurturing scientific progress. I urge the optics and photonics community — researchers, engineers, industry leaders — to weigh in on this critical issue."

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