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By Tawanda W. Johnson
APS is delighted that the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has withdrawn a proposed rule that would have eliminated the duration of status guidelines that allow international students and researchers on certain visas—such as F and J—to remain in the country as long as they maintain compliance with their terms of admission.
The proposed rule change by the Trump Administration in fall 2020 called for replacing the duration of status with an arbitrary and restrictive two- or four-year term limit, depending on one's country of origin.
In response, the Society’s leadership submitted a public comment in October 2020 in strong opposition, and APS Government Affairs mounted a grassroots campaign enabling APS members to submit unique, personalized messages to DHS. With the comment period only open for 30 days, there was a need to act quickly, and more than 1,600 APS members did so. Because the rulemaking process requires federal agencies to provide a distinctive reply to each unique comment, DHS had to respond to the various concerns of the scientific community before moving forward, thus pushing back the timeline of its implementation.
“This is fantastic news. The outstanding contributions of talented international students and scholars are essential to the success of both the physics community and US scientific enterprise, and ultimately, a firm foundation for the future of the economy,” said APS President S. James Gates, Jr. “The outcome will help put our nation back on track to being the destination of choice for the best and brightest international students and scholars to come to study and work in our country.”
Added Callie Pruett, Senior Strategist for Grassroots Advocacy, “Our team is thrilled that this draconian rule has been withdrawn and even more thrilled that we played a significant role in the push against it. Our members submitted more than 1,600 comments in opposition to the rule last year. What that translated to was nearly 1 in 20 comments originating from APS members, which is something that we are immensely proud of.”
In the Society’s response to the proposed rule signed by past APS President Phil Bucksbaum, he wrote, “History teaches that our economic competitiveness relies on top talent, much of which has come from overseas: more than one-third of all US Nobel Prize laureates were foreign-born; more than 44 percent of the Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrant entrepreneurs or their children; and more than 30 percent of the US science and engineering workforce is foreign-born. The long-term consequences of losing out on top international talent will be severe.”
The DHS withdrawal of the proposed rule is a huge win for not only APS but for many other organizations that sought to stop the measure from being implemented.
According to the Federal Register, DHS received more than 32,000 comments during the 30-day comment period, and more than 99 percent of commenters requested that DHS withdraw the rule. Those who opposed the rule argued that it “discriminates against certain groups of people based on their nationality.”
Francis Slakey, Chief External Affairs Officer, said he is proud of how APS members rallied to make their voices heard on such an important issue.
“Our members are always ready to fight for a stronger and just scientific enterprise. When we informed them about this issue, they rose to the challenge and made an impact that resulted in a positive outcome that was crucial to the sustainability of graduate research programs and a key part of our STEM talent pipeline,” he said.
The author is Senior Press Secretary in the APS Office of External Affairs.
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Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondents: Sophia Chen, Alaina G. Levine