Attorney General Becerra Slams Trump Administration Attempt to Curtail Student Exchange Programs

Tuesday, October 27, 2020
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today joined a coalition of 22 attorneys general in a comment letter expressing serious concerns with the Trump Administration’s attempt to impose arbitrary duration limits on student exchange and foreign media visas. Under the existing process, international students — as well as foreign journalists working in the United States — are able to retain their visas for the duration of their status rather than for a fixed time period. Further, the proposal would also penalize many students based on the countries they come from by limiting the initial duration of their visas to two years, regardless of the length of their program. In the comment letter, the coalition urges the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to withdraw the proposal, which could have a dramatic impact on the United States, both culturally and economically, and on California — which welcomes more international students than any state in the country. 

“When President Trump says America first, what he really means is America alone,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Instead of strengthening cultural and economic ties with our partners, he coddles dictators and punishes students because of where they come from. In California, we’re proud to welcome journalists and students from around the world. We all win when we work together. Nobody benefits when the President sticks his head in the sand and tries to ignore our neighbors. That’s why we’re calling on the federal government to withdraw this latest flawed proposal.”

On September 25, 2020, DHS announced a notice of proposed rulemaking that would fundamentally overhaul regulations governing international students, exchange visitors, and representatives of foreign media. For foreign media, visas would expire at the completion of the visa-holder’s activity, with a fixed expiration date of 240 days after admission into the United States. For students, the proposed rule’s fixed term limitations of four years — and two years for those from countries with a student and exchange visitor overstay rate of greater than 10 percent — would make it significantly more difficult for students to complete their degrees. Significantly, based on the latest data from DHS on overstay rates, it appears that the two-year limitations would impact nationals from almost all African countries, as well as Iraq, Kosovo, Philippines, Vietnam, and several other countries. If students wish to extend their visas, they would need to apply for an extension of status that would only be granted in limited circumstances and would take many months to process. 

In the comment letter, the attorneys general assert:

  • The truncated comment period and potential effective date are procedurally deficient;
  • The proposed rule is arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, relying on flawed logic and statistically insignificant data to support such a drastic change to the existing system;
  • By discouraging many international students from pursuing an education in the United States, the proposed rule would significantly impact the budgets of American educational institutions and state economies;
  • Without the contributions of international students, the quality of the education provided to American students would decrease; and
  • Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf lacks the legal authority to promulgate the rule, because of the invalid order of his succession to the position.

Attorney General Becerra is committed to protecting the rights of students in California and across the country. In July, he filed a lawsuit standing up against the Trump Administration’s dangerous directive on student visas requiring in-person classes during a pandemic, which the federal government then ditched less than a week later. The Attorney General also filed a lawsuit challenging U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ attempt to siphon pandemic relief funds away from public schools — a position the federal government officially abandoned last month. In August, Attorney General Becerra secured settlements with school districts in Barstow and Oroville to address discriminatory treatment of students based on race and disability. Last year, the Attorney General secured a historic desegregation agreement with the Sausalito Marin City School District.

In filing the comment letter, Attorney General Becerra joins the attorneys general of the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. 

A copy of the comment letter is available here.

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