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Immigration Bill Would Benefit International Students

March 04, 2021 (1 min read)

Karin Fischer, Chronicle of Higher Education, Mar. 3, 2021

"The new immigration bill, the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, would provide legal protections to Dreamers and make it easier for international STEM Ph.D.s to stay in the United States after graduation. Tucked into the 353-page bill are two other provisions that would have a big effect on international students.

The bill would permit what’s known as “dual intent.” Today, student-visa applicants have to promise not to stay here after graduation — that is, they have a single intent, to study. That's because the F-1 Student Visa is a nonimmigrant visa. Consular officers’ suspicions that applicants want to stay in the United States beyond their studies are the biggest reason student visas are denied. Before the pandemic, about a quarter of all student-visa applications were turned down. Not all students want to stay in the United States after they get their degrees, but some do, and this provision would allow them to be upfront about their plans.

And international students who have applied for green cards and are in the postgraduate work program known as optional practical training, or OPT, would be eligible to have their F-1 visa status extended and get continued employment authorization to keep working while they await approval. International graduates today often “buy time” on H1-B skilled-worker visas until they can gain permanent residency. Recent research found that the recipients of nearly eight in 10 STEM doctorates from India and two-thirds from China are on H1-Bs as they wait for green cards. The new bill would allow graduates on the path to residency, many of whom have specialized skills, to skip what is often a costly step; it would also reduce uncertainty about their status. A “university green card,” one observer dubbed the potential change.

House Democratic leaders have said they want to take up the bill quickly, perhaps within the next few weeks."