Pitt, AAU Oppose Visa Rule Change

A person in black puts a mark on a map of the worldThe University of Pittsburgh, along with other universities in Pennsylvania and members of the Association of American Universities, submitted comments opposing new visa requirements proposed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

In a message to the University’s international students, Ariel Armony, vice provost for global affairs and director of the University Center for International Studies (UCIS), expressed his opposition to the proposed changes. “I was an international student in the 1990s, and I know firsthand how much pressure you face when choosing to study in the U.S. and how hard you work to obtain your degrees,” he said. “This situation makes that pressure greater.”

Under the proposal, which was released on Sept. 25, 2020, international students’ time in the U.S. would be limited by setting fixed terms of two to four years for student visas. Additionally, the rule would establish procedures for students to apply in order to extend their stay to continue study in the U.S.

Earlier this semester, Pitt joined hundreds of other universities in filing an amicus brief in support of a July 8 lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security’s controversial plan to prohibit international students from taking an entirely online course load for the fall 2020 semester. Many of the University’s legal experts, including faculty and senior leaders, worked to help gather information for that brief.

The DHS rescinded that rule. Read more about the effort here.

Current rules allow international students to remain in the United States until they complete their degree requirements.

In their submitted comments, the universities note that the proposed limits would not accommodate the length of many of the degrees their students pursue; typical doctoral degrees last five to six years, as do many cooperative or dual degree programs. Introducing such limits, the universities argue, may deter scholars from coming to the U.S. to pursue research, as they may not be willing to risk potential disruption or other obstacles to completing their degrees.

Pitt has a longstanding tradition of international engagement. The University established UCIS in 1968 to allow faculty, staff and students from all undergraduate colleges, graduate and professional schools and regional campuses to collaborate and share international expertise across academic fields.

Pitt’s submission states: “If this regulation is adopted, it will be harmful to many programs at the University of Pittsburgh and would significantly affect access to higher education in the United States for thousands of students from developing countries. Institutions like the University of Pittsburgh have relied on the current regulatory structure to develop and expand world class programs that have positively impacted the life of citizens across hundreds of nations and have enriched the learning experience at the University.”

In the submitted comments, Armony and Sheila I. Velez Martinez, the Jack and Lovell Olender Professor of Refugee, Asylum, and Immigration Law in Pitt Law, affirmed the University’s commitment to protecting the rights of international students to pursue education in the U.S. while maintaining safety and health. They also noted the current system created by the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) already adequately serves the purpose of the new rule change.

In their AAU letter, the leaders of eight Pennsylvania universities also point out the significant imposition the proposed rule change represents to academic decision-making: “The federal government is attempting to encroach on the role of academic institutions to make decisions concerning student progress in their degree program.”

Instead, they suggested the DHS “pursue policies to make U.S. colleges and universities more attractive destinations for the best and the brightest from around the world, which is truly one important tactic for maintaining U.S. technological leadership and developing the innovations that will grow the nation’s economy in years to come.”