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BPS Submits Comments to Homeland Security's Proposed Changes to Non-Immigrant Student Visa

Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) DHS Docket No. ICEB-2019-0006

October 26, 2020

Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs
U.S. Office of Management and Budget
725 17th Street NW
Washington, DC 20503

RE: DHS Docket No. ICEB-2019-0006

Attention: Desk Officer for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DHS

On behalf of the Biophysical Society [BPS] and the thousands of research scientists we represent around the globe, we believe there are some important concerns in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) docket number ICEB-2019-0006 that must be reconsidered before any significant change in the F, J and I visa program is made in relation to Duration of Stay (D/S).

First and foremost, we do not concur with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and DHS conclusions that significant changes need to be made to the non-immigrant student visa program. International students are already carefully screened, vetted, and monitored through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). While we acknowledge that there may be individuals who might seek to ‘game’ the system of non-immigrant student visas, as also occurs within the other visa categories, the proposed changes in the NPRM will not prevent that from continuing.

What we do believe the NPRM will achieve is to place the economic advantage of international academic pursuits by foreign students in the U.S. at significant risk. Students are more likely to be deterred from pursing their academic programs in this country by the increased uncertainty associated with how long they will be approved to pursue their studies, the increased chance that their studies could be interrupted at any time due to a lack of renewal and the vague requirements outlined in demonstrating how the pursuit of additional degrees may benefit their overall course of study depending on professional focus. International students contributed nearly $41 billion and supported more than 458,000 jobs in the U.S. economy during the 2018-2019 academic year. In addition to teaching the next generation of scientific researchers as part of their academic duties, international student researchers contribute to and support economic and scientific research discoveries during their academic tenure in the U.S. and beyond.

Of particular concern to the scientific research community is the disproportionate burden that these proposed changes put on international students seeking a PhD. Neither the two-, nor four-year visa approval windows are appropriate for an individual working toward a PhD in a STEM field. The NPRM suggestion that the disproportionate burden being shifted to PhD or similar doctoral-level degree seekers, approximately 20% of non-immigrant visa holders, is comparatively insignificant as compared to undergraduate and graduate students, does not hold water. DHS and ICE will end up spending a disproportionate amount of time and resources continuing to review and approve paperwork associated with those pursuing a PhD or doctorate degree over the course of their time in the U.S. under the new proposed rules. Specifically, in the case of PhD students, the revenue associated with their studies, economic and research contributions provide significant, tangible value in exchange for pursing their degrees. The role international PhD students play in both teaching and scientific research will not be easily filled without a significant investment of time and resources by the U.S. to increase the domestic student pipeline into science.

The work of research scientists depends on continuing federal investments in scientific research. Research investments that not only enhance local and state economies through employment and academic pursuit, but also U.S. global competitiveness. We believe that a continuation of the D/S model for non-immigrant student visas is the best possible option available.

We appreciate the goal of both DHS and ICE in ensuring that the SEVIS program operates in the most efficient way possible to ensure the viability of international students’ pursuit of academia in the U.S., but do not concur that this is the best method to prevent abuse of the system. It is our belief that resources would be better utilized by an increased investment in the enforcement of current policy, not the restructuring of the non-immigrant student visa program. BPS stands ready to work with you to protect the value of the student visa program for science, the U.S. and the students who pursue academic study here.

Sincerely,

Catherine A. Royer                                         Eric Sundberg
President, Biophysical Society                        Chair, Public Affairs Committee



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