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The Daily Tar Heel

Should international students be worried about new visa enforcement?

Iris Maxfield//Trump Immigration Policy

Iris Maxfield, a junior political science major, is one of the many international students who could be impacted by Trump's Immigration Services policy. “I don't think it's going to pressure people a lot — I think it's more symbolic,” she said. “I think it's going to make it tougher because it shows symbolically that we're not welcome.”

Three universities and one community college district filed a lawsuit in response to a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services policy implemented in August that may make it easier for international students to receive lengthy bans from the country.

Guilford College, Guilford College International Club, The New School, Foothill-De Anza Community College District and Haverford College submitted the lawsuit on Oct. 23 in a U.S. district court against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and USCIS.

Unlawful presence is a term that applies to F, J or M visas, which are associated with students studying abroad. It affects students who have left their program or have done an unauthorized action, such as employment that is not approved.

Depending on the time a student overstays their visa, re-entry bans can range from three to 10 years.

Under the old policy, unauthorized presence days started stacking as soon as a student received formal notice that they were in the country illegally. Now, those days start counting as soon as the student violates their visa.

“I was really annoyed because I really value the ability that education has to be able to share things across the world and to learn new things,” said Iris Maxfield, a junior international student from London. “You can't do that as well if you only have people who have lived like you.”

The DHS said it wants to crack down on the number of people who overstay their visas, and it changed the policy because it can better track visa-holders through a computer system called SEVIS.

According to DHS reports, it’s true that students overstay their visas at a rate higher than other types of visas. However, the SEVIS system has existed for 15 years.

“It’s arbitrary and capricious,” said Paul Hughes, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. “The basis the agency says they made this change on is a new computer database, but they fail to recognize that that database has existed since 2003.”

Beyond the computer system, the lawsuit also takes issue with the way DHS implemented the policy, noting the public comment period, statutory law’s definition of unlawful presence and the due process clause.

The DHS accepted public comments for 30 days beginning in May, but the lawsuit claims the department didn’t give adequate responses to concerns. The plaintiffs also said that since unlawful presence days can accumulate without notice, students are not provided with the opportunity to resolve their situations in violation of due process. 

Still, not all students see the change to be as problematic as the colleges who submitted the lawsuit. 

Zora Zhao, president of Shared Insight for International Students, said the policy doesn't seem to affect most international students, but it does incentivize them to check their visa status more often and be sure to apply for the right visas for internships. 

“I personally tend to think that this policy doesn't affect most of the international students as most of them do not have any incentive to remain in the US after the expiration of their visas,” Zhao said.

For some, the impact of the policy isn’t about being barred entry to the country — it’s about the message it sends.

“I don't think it's going to pressure people a lot — I think it's more symbolic,” Maxfield said. “I think it's going to make it tougher because it shows symbolically that we're not welcome.”

The plaintiffs also believe the policy will create a general environment of fear among students.

“I think it will chill the desire for international students to come to American universities,” Hughes said. “They’ll be scared that a minor or technical violation will lead to a three to 10-year re-entry bar to the United States."


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