Diermeier advocates against DHS’s proposed fixed-term student visa policy in Oct. 26 letter

The Department of Homeland Security’s proposal would change the student visas from indefinite to fixed terms of four years.

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Emery Little

Kirkland Hall houses many of the university’s administrators. (Hustler Multimedia/Emery Little)

Immanual John Milton, Editor in Chief

In an Oct. 26 letter addressed to DHS Acting Regulatory Unit Chief Sharon Hageman, Chancellor Daniel Diermeier, on behalf of Vanderbilt, requested the rescission of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Sept. 25 proposition.

Current regulation allows international students to stay indefinitely in the United States as long as they are enrolled at the university and follow the rules relevant to their immigration status. This proposition would create student visas with fixed terms, with a maximum duration of four years. Students would be allowed to extend their visas under these new procedures in the proposal. Some countries, many of which are from the Middle East and Africa, would have a two-year term.

“This change would provide the Department with additional protections and mechanisms to exercise the oversight necessary to vigorously enforce our nation’s immigration laws, protect the integrity of these nonimmigrant programs, and promptly detect national security concerns,” the Sept. 25 proposition stated.

DHS cited concerns including “pay to play,” operations with school officials and people who have continually enrolled and transferred in between schools to retain student status and reside in the United States since the 1990s and early 2000s.

“DHS is concerned that such stays violate the spirit of the law, given that student status is meant to be temporary and for the primary purpose of studying, not as a way to remain in the United States indefinitely,” the proposition said.

Diermeier said the proposed changes’ new timelines of two and four-year terms are not compatible with the model of higher education, academic scholarship and empirical research. He stated that “a number” of Vanderbilt’s international students required more than four years to complete their education.

“The average time to complete doctoral studies at Vanderbilt University is six years; for some academic disciplines, a four-year period of stay barely covers the time it takes for these students to complete their required coursework. The time beyond coursework is dedicated to research,” Diermeier said.

Diermeier also wrote about the list of countries that would be granted two-year terms versus the four-year terms.

“Further, the list of countries that would be subject to the two-year timeframe is arbitrary and unfairly targets students from certain parts of the globe, including Africa and the Middle East,” Diermeier said. “During a typical academic year, we have approximately 230 students who would only have a two-year period of authorized stay under the proposed rule,”

Vanderbilt Undergraduate Chinese Association (VUCA) President Etta Wang said the proposal would harm everyone and would be a threat to the prospect of academic freedom.

“We appreciate Chancellor Diermeier standing with us at this critical time. In the face of a series of measures taken by the current administration [DHS] against international students, our own school’s support is incredibly important to us,” Wang said.

Diermeier concluded the letter by speaking about his own experiences being born as a first-generation college graduate in West Germany during the Cold War.

“I had little beyond a suitcase and a few hundred dollars to my name. But I experienced a wondrous new land of opportunity and freedom, launching me on a fruitful academic career and giving me a new home in the U.S., where I have lived for the past four decades,” Diermeier said. “We must ensure that bright and highly skilled students and scholars have the opportunities that I had, and are welcome and able to study in the U.S.”