International students and scholars should pay careful attention to the latest changes to visa issuance and authorized stays for higher education. On Sept. 25, the Trump administration proposed to remove the “duration of status” policy for F and J visa holders. This will increase the government’s oversight of foreign student and international exchange programs.
Right now, oversight is largely 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 for decades. The administration’s new rules would bring four critical changes to that tradition.
The two-year period applies to:
Changes to Extensions of Stay
Currently, colleges and universities can grant program extensions to international students who meet certain criteria and are making “normal progress” toward completing the program. The proposal would eliminate this and instead require one of three conditions be satisfied before a program extension could be granted:
Foreign students and scholars seeking program extensions would need to submit biometrics in addition to providing evidence of sufficient funding for their stay. Those international scholars may also be interviewed by a local USCIS officer.
Changes to Employment Authorization
F-1 students currently can work on and off campus under limited conditions. The proposal will likely change foreign nationals’ eligibility to work while program extension applications are pending with USCIS.
On-campus employment and economic hardship employment could continue while the application is pending. But F-1 students applying for standard post-completion OPT employment may not continue or start practical training until USCIS approves the program extension request and issues an Employment Authorization Document. The number of days in which a student may apply for OPT employment before the program ends will go from 90 to 120 days, but since the window for applying after the program ends will decrease from 60 to 30 days, international students seeking OPT employment should apply before graduating.
J-1 exchange visitors authorized to work incident to status can keep working and engage in activities in line with program regulations as long as their extension application was filed timely.
Please contact Brandon Davis, Laura N. Buck or any other member of Phelps’ Labor and Employment team if you have any questions or need compliance advice and guidance.