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Westminster urges DHS to abandon proposed time limits for international students

Flags representing the countries of Westminster College’s international students hang over the Shaw Student Center dining hall. The college submitted a comment to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Wednesday, urging it to abandon its proposed rule to limit the time period international students can stay in the country. (Marisa Cooper)

Westminster College submitted a comment to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Wednesday, urging it to abandon its proposed rule to limit the time period international students can stay in the country.

Under its current policy, international students are permitted to stay in the U.S. for an extended period of time, so long as they follow the “terms of admission.” If approved, the proposal would implement a fixed period of stay with a maximum of four years.

“The proposed rule would severely restrict international students and exchange visitors by making it difficult for them to complete their studies,” the school said in a statement. “We urge that the proposed rule be withdrawn in its entirety, and that admission for the duration of status remain in effect.”

The proposal was initially announced Sept. 24, with the Department of Homeland Security citing its goals to “encourage program compliance, reduce fraud and enhance national security.”

The DHS noted there has been “significant growth” in its non-immigration programs (including F-, I- and J-visas) prompting the federal agency to increase measures to “ensure the integrity of the U.S. immigration system.”

“This effort would create a fixed time period of admission for certain aliens, consistent with most other temporary visa classifications,” said acting deputy secretary Ken Cuccinelli  in a statement. “While still allowing these aliens an opportunity to legally extend their stay or re-apply for admission where appropriate.”

Under the new policy, international students are permitted to stay in the U.S. for the duration of their program — which the DHS projected to be about four years.

However, Westminster officials argued this doesn’t take into account academic programs that extend past the four-year allotment.

“There are many circumstances in which a student could take more than the standard 4 years to complete an undergraduate degree,” the college said its in submitted comment. “Commonly students will need additional developmental coursework in math or writing.  Or they might decide to change their major or add a second major or minor which will require additional time to complete.”

The proposal would allow for international students to stay past the fixed time period if there was proof of a “compelling academic or medical reason for failing to complete their educational program by the program end date,” according to the rule.

“The phrase ‘compelling academic reasons’ is troublesome because it is not clearly defined by the rule,” the college said. “Meaning that the government will have more discretionary power over students than the academic advisors and faculty members who design the curriculum.”

Westminster currently hosts 76 international students from 30 countries on the F-1 visa, according to the school website.

“International students and exchange visitors contribute immensely to our campus community in Salt Lake City, as well as to the entire country and communities where they are studying,” school officials said in a statement.

Westminster submitted its comment to U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security, joining roughly 24,440 other public comments on the document. Comments will be accepted until Monday.

“This change is not needed,” Westminster wrote to the Department of Homeland Security. “We urge you to withdraw this proposed rule in its entirety and instead focus on a national plan to make the United States more welcoming to international students.”

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Cami Mondeaux
Cami Mondeaux is a senior communication major with a minor in sociology. Passionate about journalism, Cami has worked in the field for three years – completing internships at KSL NewsRadio, KUER 90.1 NPR Utah and The Washington Diplomat in Washington, D.C. She now covers breaking news for KSL NewsRadio with a focus on the 2020 election. Cami is excited to bring her skills to The Forum for her second year as editor-in-chief.

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