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Harvard, Protect Duration of Status for International Students

By Steve S. Li
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

International students are under attack once again. A recent proposal from the U.S Department of Homeland Security seeks to eliminate “duration of status” classification: a policy which grants international students legal stay in the U.S for the entire time they are pursuing “a full course of study,” plus any authorized follow-up training. If passed, the DHS proposal would make student visas valid only for a fixed number of years rather than extending visa validity through the completion of a student’s studies by default — increasing restrictions on the already arduous visa process international students undergo. The measure would make it legal for international students on F-1 student visas, J-1 foreign exchange visas, and their dependents to be booted from the U.S. before completing their course of study — a major departure from current, long held DHS policy.

This new policy obviously threatens to impede the education of international students. Many factors could lead to a student’s course of study taking longer than their fixed-term visa might allow, including a global pandemic that disrupts all of higher education. But much more mundane explanations can complicate degree timelines as well: What if the experiments of a graduate student prove more laborious than expected, necessitating extra time?

This measure is hardly DHS’s first attempt to restrict the ability of international students to pursue their education in the U.S. In response to many institutions announcing that their classes would take place virtually this semester, the Trump administration tried to bar all international students on F-1 and M-1 student visas from retaining their residence in the U.S if they’d be taking online-only classes. It is because of such restrictions that no freshman international students have been welcomed to campus this fall.

DHS’s proposal should be viewed as a new development within a longstanding pattern of xenophobia disguised as efforts to enhance national security. As Harvard’s Vice Provost for International Affairs Mark C. Elliott remarked, it “seeks to fix a problem that doesn't exist.” Instead, the proposed measure creates a problem: it signals to international students that their presence and contributions are not welcome. The past year has brought students enough uncertainty and anxiety. That the DHS has chosen to propose obstacles rather than accommodating international students during this challenging time is telling.

Harvard has forcefully denounced the DHS proposal. This tracks; the University has a record of taking an appreciably active approach to combating Trump on immigration, be it on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or on the online-only fight this summer. Elliott makes clear that American higher education as a whole is worse for Trump’s anti-immigration platform. Under him, he says “Harvard has suffered.”

We do challenge Elliott’s characterization that “[the] system is working fine,” made when commenting on the proposal at hand. DHS’s proposed rule change certainly isn’t remedying any actual issue that arose while “duration of stay” was the standard — to our knowledge, no such issue exists. But, if implemented, the proposed visa policies would only make a flawed system worse.

We hope future policymaking focuses on real problems in the immigration system: for one, money can serve as a barrier for less affluent international students studying in the United States. Harvard is one of only five four-year colleges that take a need-blind approach to international student admissions; other colleges can deny international students admission based on their financial need. The political environment international students enter is also openly hostile. The Trump administration has created a culture of fear for international scholars, leaving students wondering when their place in higher education might be challenged next. Tense incidents — such as when a Palestinian Harvard freshman had his visa revoked and was deported at Logan Airport last fall — are not easily forgotten, even when they end favorably.

Sadly, the vulnerability international student visa holders face is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the U.S’s cruel immigration politics. The 545 children intentionally and likely permanently separated from their parents by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to deter Central American migration stand as the most sobering reminder of the morally bankrupt spirit with which the Trump administration has overseen immigration.

We hope the DHS’s most recent proposal to worsen academic life for international students doesn’t ever come into force. But, even if we dodge that bullet, the U.S immigration system needs urgent work.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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