Comment letter from President Christian in response to proposed Homeland Security rule on student visa requirements

The following letter was submitted by President Donald P. Christian to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security via the Federal Register on Oct. 26, 2020.

Members of our community can learn more about the proposed rule changes using this link.

Sharon Hageman
Acting Regulatory Unit Chief, Office of Policy and Planning
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
500 12th Street SW
Washington, D.C. 20536

RE: DHS Docket No. ICEB-2019-0006-0001, Comments in Response to Establishing a Fixed Time Period of Admission and an Extension of Stay Procedure for Nonimmigrant Academic Students, Exchange Visitors, and Representatives of Foreign Information Media

As president of the State University of New York at New Paltz (SUNY New Paltz), I am submitting this comment letter in response to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s proposed rule, “Establishing a Fixed Time Period of Admission and an Extension of Stay Procedure for Nonimmigrant Academic Students, Exchange Visitors, and Representatives of Foreign Information Media” (DHS Docket No. ICEB-2019-0006-0001), published September 25, 2020. I urge that the proposed rule be withdrawn in its entirety, and that admission for the duration of status remain in effect for the non-immigrant students, scholars, professors, interns, specialists and other exchange visitors who contribute greatly to the United States.

This proposed rule was published in the Federal Registrar in the midst of what is perhaps the most difficult time in the history of colleges and universities in the United States. The change in teaching modalities, disruption in support services, financial strain, and psychological stress brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and continued growth of cases in our country has resulted in unprecedented challenges for our students and the faculty and staff who work to teach and support their academic, personal and professional development. Every SUNY New Paltz student has been negatively impacted by the pandemic, including international students.  Concerned about continuing their education and meeting the goals that brought them to this country, international students are subjected by this proposal to capricious and arbitrary changes in the regulations that would put them at a distinct disadvantage.

The current system of admitting international students and scholars to the United States ties the legal immigration status of that non-immigrant to the activities that assure they are following the regulations. The elimination of Duration of Status (D/S) will result in an arbitrary fixed time limit applied across academic programs and disciplines without consideration of the determined apart from the academic sphere. Current wait times for non-immigrants applying to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) are unacceptably long and this change will result in even more delays.

International students, even more than others, benefit from the flexibility to pursue a double major or additional minor, many need time to improve English language skills before starting full time academic courses, and do so through our nationally-recognized English as a Second Language program.

The elimination of D/S will impose a huge burden on schools and students alike, and force unnecessary and redundant procedures for vetting student records for extension eligibility by USCIS. Additionally, this change will negatively impact prospective international students’ consideration of study in the U.S. in the first place and will influence their experience with the U.S. if they do pursue their education here. Universities have been given thirty days to respond to a rule changing a practice that has worked well for students and universities for more than 30 years. Instead of supporting international students in their adjustment to life and study in the United States, the Designated School Officials are scrambling to understand this draconian proposed rule and plan for implementation.

SUNY New Paltz has unique dual diploma programs, partnered with universities in China, Brazil and Turkey, that provide students with a profound understanding of their world. These future global leaders gain a prospective that with guide their decisions for the whole of their careers.

The College is one of only a handful of universities in the United States that is authorized by the U.S. Department of State to provide business internship opportunities to international students and young professionals. Our program employs high-impact learning practices to provide structured and guided work-based educational experiences. SUNY New Paltz business faculty share how much they enjoy having the Institute for International Business students in their classes. They repeatedly point out that discussions in the classes were more nuanced, included more specific examples, and pushed all students to think globally about the topics at hand. This is at risk if the department arbitrarily put limits on international students and interns ability to come to SUNY New Paltz.

SUNY New Paltz’s partnerships with universities around the world provide exchange opportunities for our American students to go abroad for a very reasonable price. Opening global learning programs to all, regardless of financial means, won the College the Institute for International Education Heiskell Award. By placing more roadblocks in the way of international students coming to SUNY New Paltz, we limit the opportunities for American students to go abroad, resulting in a myopic view of the world.

If admission and enrollment of international students in the U.S. continues to decline, we will see an associated decline in the U.S. economy, as international student enrollment has been one of the leading exports in our nation. In the 2018-2019 academic year, the last for which comprehensive financial information is available, international students contributed more than $10.3 million to the New Paltz community and more than $41 billion to the United States.

If this proposed rule is adopted, it will change international education as we know it, which will have a lasting and far-reaching negative impact on the diplomacy, economy, and institutions of the United States, as well as impact the ability of the U.S. to recruit and retain highly educated, determined, and skilled individuals.

The proposed rule is a significant unwarranted, unnecessary and harmful intrusion into academic decision-making.


Donald P. Christian, Ph.D.
President, State University of New York at New Paltz