SGA & GTIA Letter to Senators Loeffler and Perdue

Dear Senators Perdue and Loeffler,

We are writing to express our concern regarding the September 25, 2020 rule proposed by the Department of Homeland Security that would arbitrarily limit international student visa lengths and place additional restrictions on student visas based on an individual’s country of origin. These changes in policy place additional burdens on students and universities, further disincentivizing prospective international students from attending U.S. institutions of higher education. International students are a critical part of colleges and universities across the country, and this proposed rule would undermine our nation’s leadership in higher education and research. With 25% of Georgia Tech’s entire student body made up of international students this proposed change would have a drastic negative impact on Georgia Tech, disproportionately impacting the graduate population which has 40% international students from over 100 different countries.

Currently, most international student visas are valid for the duration of status, which allows international students to remain in the United States if they remain enrolled in an institution of higher education while abiding by rules relevant to their immigration status. This proven system provides flexibility for both four-year degrees and doctoral programs that may require additional time to complete.

The proposed rule replaces this longstanding policy with a fixed, four-year visa. This would be further reduced to just two years for students who were born in Iran, North Korea, Sudan or Syria, regardless of their citizenship, as well as citizens of those countries.  Georgia Tech’s Fall 2015 undergraduate cohort had a 50.7% four year graduation rate which went up to 88.8% after 5 years. From these statistics, it is clear that this fixed, four-year visa would disincentivize international students from attending undergraduate programs at Georgia Tech and place undue stress on these students to finish degree programs in a shorter length of time than they are traditionally completed in. Additionally, doctoral students who teach and/or provide nationally and internationally recognized research are in degree programs of longer lengths, disproportionately impacted by these terms with a national average time to complete a PhD program being between 5 and 6 years. This rule uses a flawed methodology to limit citizens of countries with certain visa overstay rates, disproportionately impacting students from countries that send smaller numbers of international students. Furthermore, the proposed rule would arbitrarily limit the number of times students can change programs at the same degree level and impose intrusive mandates that would allow Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials to arbitrarily make determinations traditionally left to academic institutions.

These proposed changes, if enacted, would place at risk the academic careers of the over 13,000 international students attending the University System of Georgia’s institutes of higher education each year. These students play a fundamental role in our state’s academic and campus life. Their contributions are critical to maintaining the United States’ leadership in STEM fields and cutting-edge technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence. These rules would also threaten the hundreds of thousands of jobs supported by international students, as well as the tens of billions of dollars in economic activity that these students facilitate each year.

International students remain a key part of the higher education ecosystem in the state of Georgia and in our country. They enrich the higher education experience for all students and provide meaningful contributions to our country. The proposed rule places needless restrictions on these students and fundamentally threatens a cornerstone of our nation’s higher education system. With this in mind, we urge you to support rescinding the changes to the duration of status of F, J, and I visa holders and maintain the current duration of status policy.

We must ensure that Georgia Tech, the state of Georgia, and the United States welcomes and fosters international students who are vital to our economy and continue to provide meaningful contributions to research, culture, academic life, and our country.

Thank you for your consideration and service to our state and country.

Brielle Lonsberry
Undergraduate Student Body President

Lea Harris
Graduate Student Body President

Aarushi Khajuria
Georgia Tech International Ambassadors President

Author: Caleb Torres

Chief of Staff, Georgia Tech Student Government Association