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Harvard Undergraduate Council Condemns DHS Proposal Restricting Student Visas

The Undergraduate Council had weekly meetings on Sunday at the Issacson Room in Smith Campus Center Collaborative Commons.
The Undergraduate Council had weekly meetings on Sunday at the Issacson Room in Smith Campus Center Collaborative Commons. By MyeongSeo Kim
By Hannah J. Martinez, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard’s Undergraduate Council passed two pieces of legislation Sunday to endorse a letter condemning a proposed U.S. Department of Homeland Security rule that would impose new time limits on student visas.

The UC also approved legislation to gather student testimonials on the proposed rule; Quincy House representative Evangelos M. Kassos ’23 sponsored both pieces of legislation.

“What this legislation is trying to do is submit a formal, common letter at the Federal Registry,” Kassos said. “The agency will have to consider every comment that gets submitted.”

As of Sunday evening, more than 26,000 public comments concerning the rule change were published on the Federal Register website.

The proposed rule, published on the Federal Register website on Sept. 25, recommends that type F, J, and I visa holders be admitted into the United States for fixed periods of time. Currently, those who hold type F, J, and I visas may stay in the country as long as they are complying with the terms and conditions.

International students and exchange students fall under the F and J category.

The Department of Homeland Security argued in its proposal the current policy “creates a challenge” for its capacity to ensure that visa holders are not violating the terms and conditions of their visas. The UC, however, argued that the new rules will have negative consequences for international students.

“The proposed rule will increase the economic burden of international students in the U.S.,” the UC’s legislation reads.

The UC also argued the policy change would pose other challenges, such as forcing international students to reapply for visas after their fixed terms expire, introducing uncertainty about coursework, and only allowing students to take time off due to “compelling academic or medical reason[s].”

“I think it’s a great approach to this,” Ukrainian student Vladyslav “Vlad” Ivanchuk ’23 said of the UC’s letter. “I hope the authorities will consider the real life implications of their rules.”

The UC’s letter is addressed to DHS Acting Secretary Chad F. Wolf and Sharon Hageman, acting regulatory unit chief of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and urges them to withdraw the proposed rule.

“The proposed rule is, in our opinion, part of a series of legislative actions that aim to unjustifiably restrict the number of visas issued to students, scholars, and highly skilled workers, with the most prominent example being the … thoughtless and finally withdrawn ICE July 6th directive reverting the temporary exceptions for nonimmigrant students taking online courses during the Fall 2020 semester,” the UC’s letter reads.

In July, ICE announced that it would reimplement a rule barring international students from residing in the United States while studying online after it had paused the rule in March. After Harvard and MIT filed a lawsuit against ICE and DHS, the policy change was rescinded, and international students were allowed to remain in the country. Harvard College announced that incoming international freshmen, however, would not be able to come to campus in the fall due to concerns about federal visa restrictions.

A DHS spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on the UC’s legislation.

University President Lawrence S. Bacow wrote a letter on Oct. 16 to Hageman about Harvard’s opposition to the proposed policy.

“By casting a wide net and arbitrarily bounding international students and scholars, the proposed rule would create negative and cascading consequences for US research, scholarship, and training; weaken our national recovery and future competitiveness; and undermine our national response to global challenges in science, security, and public health,” Bacow wrote.

Vice Provost for International Affairs Mark C. Elliott also denounced the proposed rule in an Oct. 15 interview with The Crimson.

It “seeks to fix a problem that doesn’t exist,” Elliott said.

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain wrote in an email the University had no comment concerning the UC's legislation.

The second piece of the UC’s legislation proposed that the Council create a survey to gauge student opinions on the proposed rule and gather the results into a report for the Council, which it would send to the Office of the Vice Provost for International Affairs, the Harvard International Office, and the Office of International Education.

Some international students have already voiced concerns with the rule change.

“It’s been an emotional rollercoaster because we’re relying on our place here in Cambridge for a safe environment,” Ivanchuk said. “And if we were like, one day required to leave, for a lot of us there’s literally no place to go.”

—Staff writer Hannah J. Martinez can be contacted at hannah.martinez@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinezhannahj.

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