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Immigration Law

Expert: Biden Brings Hope for International Students

Prof. Stephen W. Yale-Loehr, Apr. 24, 2021

"... Biden’s election was a pivotal moment for international students. Universities are already seeing a spike in international student applications, a phenomenon coined “the Biden bump.”  A survey of 800 prospective international students from 40 countries found that 76 percent had improved perceptions of the United States, and 67 percent said they were now more likely to apply to American universities.  Despite President Biden’s welcoming stance towards international students, institutions could face another lost year if visa processing issues are not resolved. As of last month, only 18 percent of U.S. consular posts were operating at full capacity. The COVID-related travel bans also prevent students from Europe, the United Kingdom, China, and Brazil from directly entering the United States. Even if visa processing resumes, the huge backlog of applications will likely cause significant delays.  While universities struggle to plan and advise their international students, some students are considering attending schools outside of the United States if they cannot land a visa interview soon.  

The Biden administration should do the following to attract international students, provide predictability, and allow universities and employers to retain global talent:

  • Biden should direct the appropriate agencies to formally withdraw proposed Trump-era rules that would harm international students if implemented, including ones that would limit student visas to a fixed number of years and discourage employers from sponsoring students for H-1B visas. Biden should also direct Immigration and Customs Enforcement to update its guidance so that new international students can study in the United States even if they are doing so online.
  • As Biden proposed in his U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, F-1 students should be allowed to have “dual intent” and apply for green cards immediately after graduating instead of having to rely on the H-1B temporary visa lottery.
  • H-1B visas should return to lower rates of denials and RFEs, with RFEs being more specific in their requests. Furthermore, the USCIS should reinstate prior policy granting deference to applicants with previous H-1B approvals. Biden should also ask Congress to raise the annual H-1B cap. The current cap of 85,000 visas is far too low for the nearly 275,000 registrations the USCIS received this month.

Stephen Yale-Loehr is Professor of Immigration Law Practice at Cornell Law School and of counsel at Miller Mayer LLP in Ithaca, N.Y. He thanks Ayumi Berstein, a third-year student at Cornell Law School, for her assistance. Follow him on Twitter @syaleloehr