The University of Iowa

International Student and Scholar Services

International Student and Scholar Services

The official source of information and support for international students and scholars at the University of Iowa.

Announcements

The following letter was sent from Russell Ganim, associate provost and dean of International Programs at the University of Iowa, to the Department of Homeland Security on October 13, 2020:

October 13, 2020

Department of Homeland Security
2707 Martin Luther King Jr Ave SE
Washington, DC 20528

To Whom It May Concern:

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed rule “Establishing a Fixed Time Period of Admission an Extension of Stay Procedure for Nonimmigrant Academic Students, Exchange Visitors, and Representatives of Foreign Information Media” (DHS Docket No. ICEB-2019-0006). For decades, international students have been an invaluable part of college campuses across the nation, contributing academically, culturally, and economically. It remains imperative that United States’ institutions maintain their ability to attract and retain these students. On behalf of the University of Iowa, I express concerns that aspects of this proposed rule will impose undue burden on students and institutions alike, potentially restricting certain students’ ability to succeed at our instititions, as well as restrict institutions’ ability to attract and retain students from across the globe. We offer the following comments and concerns in regards to the proposed rule for your consideration.

Ability to Attract the Best and Brightest

First and foremost, the proposed rule will make it very difficult for US universities to continue to attract the best and brightest students from around the world, and to benefit from their intellect. Over the past few years, we have seen fewer international students choosing to study in the US citing unpredictable changes in immigration regulations with very brief notice. The proposed rule would add to that a substantial financial and time cost to studying in the US that will cause the most promising international students and scholars to consider attending institutions in other English-speaking countries. As an example, a promising Ph.D. student from Papua New Guinea would typically need at least 5 years to complete their doctorate. But because their country is subject to a two-year maximum admission under the proposed rule, they would need to apply for two extensions of stay during their program. Each time they apply, they would have to pay the $370 application fee and the $85 biometrics fee. They would also have to pay additional biometric fees for each dependent in the US with them. This means that even if the student would graduate on schedule, they would have to pay at least $910, followed by another extension if they hope to make use of and expand their education with post-completion training.

If that cost alone were not enough to discourage a student from choosing the US, the time investment could. For each biometrics appointment, the student would need to travel to a USCIS Application Support Center. For students at the University of Iowa, the nearest center is in Des Moines – 115 miles away. Even if the student has a car, they would need to take a day away from classes and research for each appointment. If they do not have access to a car and need to take a bus, they may need to miss multiple days each time.

This issue could be even further exacerbated by the proposed limit to the number of times a student is able to change programs, granting SEVIS greater authority to a student’s academic career.

International students attending American colleges and universities contributed $41 billion to the U.S. economy and supported almost 460,000 jobs during the 2018-19 academic year, according to NAFSA: Association of International Educators. In addition, these highly skilled and highly educated students often go on to become precisely the type of workers America needs to compete in today’s knowledge economy.

Unreliable data and arbitrary criteria related to the 10% Overstay rate

The proposed criteria in regards to the 10% overrate is unclear and seems to unfairly punish students from countries with few admissions. It appears that the proposed rule would take the number of international students with no Arrival and Departure Information System (ADIS) departure record, a method used to determine suspected in-country overstay and adds that number to the number of students with an ADIS departure record that was later than it should have been based on criteria which are unclear (out of country overstays). The rule does not mention whether ADIS is using a SEVIS Program End Date, SEVIS Status, or a different formula to come up with this. This combined number is then used to determine the total overstay rate used in DHS’ Entry and Exit Overstay Report.

To that end, ADIS is itself unreliable within a SEVIS context. The Entry and Exit Overstay report states that “[…] ADIS is a person-centric data, but SEVIS data is document-centric, meaning the system tracks a unique SEVIS identification number associated with each Form I-20 issued. In a person-centric environment an individual is either active or inactive but, in a document-centric environment an individual could have multiple active records, making it difficult to determine if he or she is in valid status.”

Therefore, many of the suspected in-country overstays are likely in error. ADIS records are frequently missing from SEVIS records, sometimes simply because a border official entered a name incorrectly or a student changed their degree level.

This also means the number of out of country overstays, which are intended to record nonimmigrants who leave the US after their eligibility has expired, is not always reliable. To that end, there is an ADIS Vetting Unit (AVU) which reviews these suspected out of country overstays and takes action against those individuals found to have been in violation.  In 2019, the AVU only took 36,000 such actions – just 35% of the total out of country overstays. This means that 65% of the supposed overstays highlighted by ADIS did not rise to the level of sanction.

In addition to the uncertain nature of the data, the 10% overstay rate appears to be arbitrary and punishes citizens of countries with few admissions. For example, Tuvalu only had 6 expected departures of students in 2019. There were 0 identified overstays, but there was 1 record missing an ADIS record. Even though this 1 missing record is not positively identified as a genuine overstay, Tuvalu is assigned an Overstay Rate of 16.67% and future students from there would be subject to a 2-year length of admission.

Regulatory Paradox for Designated School Officials (DSOs)

The proposed rule would change how DSOs apply for extensions, but does not change how DSO’s create initial Forms I-20, further complicating this process for institutions. Per the unchanged 8 CFR 214.2(f)(7)(ii), DSOs will be required to issue the initial Form I-20 for the program length “[…] based upon the time an average student would need to complete a similar program in the same discipline”. For virtually all PhD programs and even for Bachelor’s programs for students admitted for only two years, this means that the I-20 program end date will not reflect the time that the student is required to depart the US.

This fact creates a Catch-22 situation for DSOs when they attempt to follow the proposed rule. The extension mechanism in the proposed 8 CFR 214.2(f)(7)(iii) is for a failure to meet the program end date on the Form I-20.  However, DSOs cannot enter a program end date of simply 4 or 2 years without violating the unchanged 8 CFR 214.2(f)(7)(ii). Even if we overlook this contradiction, the proposed 8 CFR 214.2(f)(7)(iii)(B) allows for the following potential extension reasons:

(1) Compelling academic reasons, such as inability to take the required classes in his or her major due to over-enrollment, changes of major or research topics, or unexpected research problems. Unexpected research problems are those caused by an unexpected change in faculty advisor, need to refine investigatory topic based on initial research, research funding delays, and similar issues. Delays including, but not limited to those caused by academic probation or suspension, or where a student whose pattern of behavior demonstrates a repeated inability or unwillingness to complete his or her course of study, such as failing classes, are not acceptable reasons for extensions of a current program and corresponding extension of stay;

(2) A documented illness or medical condition. A documented illness or medical condition is a compelling medical reason, such as a serious injury, that is supported by medical documentation from a licensed medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or licensed clinical psychologist; or

(3) Circumstances beyond the student's control, including a natural disaster, national health crisis, or the closure of an institution.

In the example of a Doctoral student or a Bachelor’s student from a country limited to a two-year admission, none of these rules are applicable. The student was admitted for a period of time significantly less than the amount of time reasonable for completion of their educational objective. Together, these two circumstances put DSOs in an impossible position where they cannot issue Forms I-20 for an appropriate program length and the true reason for the program extension is not a permissible one in the proposed rule.

Program Completion Catch-22 for Students

The proposed rule could lead to students who are unable to complete their programs of study without violating their status, restricting their ability to succeed at our institutions. In a number of programs, one of the final requirements for degree conferral is a practicum or capstone project which requires off-campus employment authorization in the form of Curricular Practical Training (CPT). However, the proposed rule prohibits students from being authorized for CPT while their Extension of Stay (EOS) application is pending. The proposed rule does foresee that even timely filed applications will not be approved before a student’s current program end date and thus wisely allows students to maintain their student status while the EOS is pending.

Unfortunately, this can create an impossible situation for students. A student who files a timely EOS, which is not approved by their program end date cannot participate in their required practicum or capstone project. And if that is their final degree requirement, they also cannot maintain their student status without being in that program. Many education, nursing, pharmacy and other students will not be able to complete their programs under these proposed changes.

Optional Practical Training (OPT) Limitations

The proposed rule would further tighten an already constricted OPT system by reducing the number of days students have to file an application for post-completion OPT and disallowing automatic extensions of status. For those advanced graduate and professional students already in the country, this will create enormous hurdles they had not originally accounted for. In addition, this may deter future graduate and professional students from considering United States’ institutions as a destination to pursue an advanced degree.

Impact on Language Learning

The proposed rule would also be unwelcoming and burdensome for students in language programs like the University of Iowa’s Iowa Intensive English Program (IIEP).  Language learning for adults does not follow a strict progression of courses and can be highly individualized depending on the proficiency level of the student on arrival.  Even if students can complete their language training within 24 months, many of our IIEP students want to matriculate and pursue a bachelor’s degree.  The requirement to file and pay for an extension is not only logistically and financially taxing, but also risky if they plan to travel between completion of their language training and their matriculation, as many students currently do.  Students would have to file early enough for the extension to be approved on time. If they leave the country while it is pending, the application could be considered abandoned, and the student might be refused reentry.  This is unnecessary and counterproductive to the value of promoting cross-cultural relationships.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments on the proposed rule. Now, in an era of increased global competition, it is imperative that the United States maintain its ability to attract the best and brightest throughout the world, and aspects of this proposed rule hinder our ability to do just that. Thank you for your careful consideration, and if you have any questions in regards to these comments please do not hesitate to contact me at Russell-Ganim@uiowa.edu.

Sincerely,

Russell Ganim
Associate Provost and Dean
International Programs – The University of Iowa

The following message was sent to students on September 30, 2020:

Students,

By now you may have heard from media reports that the Federal government has proposed a rule change eliminating Duration of Status (D/S) for F-1 students and J-1 Exchange visitors. The effect of this change would be that students and scholars would not be able to extend their programs just by working with an ISSS advisor. Students would also have to submit an application along with a fee and a biometrics appointment to USCIS. The proposed change would also limit students from some countries to an initial program length of just two years and each extension would be for a maximum of two more years each time.

We are very concerned about the impact of this proposed change for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the added emotional and financial burden to international students in having to submit the extra applications to the federal government. To that end, we are working with the University’s representatives in Washington DC as well as our colleagues in the Big Ten and international education advocates across the country to voice opposition to this proposed change.

Please note that nothing has changed at this time.  The proposed rule must accept comments for 30 days. After the 30 days have ended, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is required to review and respond to the comments then decide to keep the proposal as is, change the proposal, or discard it altogether. Only after DHS has reviewed and responded to these comments can they publish a final rule which will list the date the rule would take effect. 

Even though nothing is changing at this time, we know that even the thought of this rule taking effect is stressful to many international students. This past year has seen one obstacle after another thrown up in front of you as you try to complete your studies here and yet you have persevered. But please remember to take care of yourselves and do not hesitate to reach out when you need help. In addition to meeting with an ISSS advisor in a virtual walk-in please remember that the specialists at University Counseling Services (call 319-335-7294 or click here to schedule an appointment) and Student Care and Assistance (call 319-335-1162 or email dos-assistance@uiowa.edu) are also here for you.  

Welcome Back! A Message from Dean Russell Ganim

Our mission

International Student and Scholar Services of the University of Iowa provides leadership in international education and intercultural learning through services to international students and scholars, their dependents, the University, and the surrounding community.  We enhance the academic, cultural, and social pursuits of our students and scholars through exceptional immigration and personal advising as well as outstanding cross-cultural programming and training.

SERVICES AND PROGRAMS TO INTERNATIONALIZE THE CAMPUS

ISSS is more than the "immigration" office.  Although helping international students and scholars in F, M, and J status with immigration issues is a significant part of our work, with nearly 9000 in-person visits to advisors each year and thousands of electronic forms processed, we are also heavily involved in intercultural and adjustment programming for students and scholars, providing cultural competency and intercultural awareness training for staff and faculty, and supporting the Iowa City area community to be a welcoming place for international visitors.

Learn more about the programs and services we offer:

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ISSS News
11/20/2020

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