DHS wants to tighten leash on student and exchange visas; is it enough?

Amid growing concerns about espionage, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is moving to place time limits on foreign student and exchange visas.

For the first time, F-1 student visas (more than 1 million issued in 2019) and J-1 exchange visitor visas (353,300) would be subject to two- or four-year expirations. The new rules, according to the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), would replace the “laissez-faire, essentially open-ended schedules that have given rise to fraud, espionage and terrorism.”

Despite predictable caterwauling from left-wing media outlets, such safeguards are entirely reasonable, long overdue, and perhaps still too loose.

As DHS explains: “These changes ensure that the Department has an effective mechanism to periodically and directly assess whether these non-immigrants are complying with the conditions of their classifications and U.S. immigration laws, and to obtain timely and accurate information about the activities they have engaged in and plan to engage in during their temporary stay in the United States.”

Acting on security concerns swirling around the F and J visa programs, the State Department rescinded more than 1,000 visas from Chinese nationals last month. The revocations came after years of espionage by Chinese students.

CIS derides the current F visa program “as elastic as students and the sponsors who benefit from the billions in tuition or affordable labor want it to be, with no national security evaluations, check-ins with trained DHS officers, or proof of need for years stretching even into decades.”

Two-year visa expirations — with an opportunity for extensions by a DHS immigration officer — would apply to countries with visa overstay rates exceeding 10 percent: Nigeria, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Also on the restricted list are the terrorist-linked nations of Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Chad, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, North Korea, Iran, Sudan, Syria and Libya.

Curiously, China gets more leeway. Though citing “multiple examples” of stateside spying by Beijing, DHS gives Chinese nationals the same four-year visa terms as other countries (excluding the above), with the same renewal protocols. This seems unduly lax, considering the incidence of espionage and the thousands of Chinese student overstays each year.

“In light of ongoing espionage cases involving the J and F visas, nothing about the proposed restrictions comes off as particularly draconian,” CIS concludes. “The visa programs are not to be eliminated, the numbers granted not capped. Opportunities for renewal and extension are baked into the new cake.”

Americans can only hope that continued opportunities for espionage and terrorism aren’t baked in as well.

Public comments on the proposed rules are being accepted through Oct. 26. They can be submitted here.#

About Author


Bob Dane, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)'s Executive Director, has been with FAIR since 2006. His deep belief is that immigration is the most transformational determinant of where we are heading as a nation and that our policies must be reformed in the public interest. Over many years on thousands of radio, TV and print interviews, Bob has made the case that unless immigration is regulated and sensibly reduced, it will be difficult for America to reduce unemployment, increase wages, improve health care and education and heighten national security. Prior to joining FAIR, Bob spent twenty years in network radio, marketing and communications after an earlier career in policy and budgeting within the Reagan Administration. Bob has a degree from George Mason University in Public Administration and Management.

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