I am on the verge of panic about the proposed immigration rule change. What is Cornell doing?

Date: October 2020


Dear Deans,

Hope you and yours have been able to stay safe in these difficult times.

There were a couple of issues I wanted to raise on the proposed changes in the visa rules:

  1. Beyond the brief mention in the Graduate School newsletter and the email several days ago from International Services assuring us that they were on the matter, we haven’t really received any guidance. The Grad School newsletter, further, presents it as an ‘advocacy opportunity’, and only includes vague reassurances about close contact. As to the ‘advocacy opportunity’ aspect, while of course, I will submit a comment, I do not know what difference a deluge of comments from international students with a direct interest in regulations staying as they are will do. Slightly more specific assurance about the efforts being made might put our minds at ease.
  2. I understand that there is a limit to what you might be able to do about the first question, including in terms of information dissemination. However, as a fourth-year Ph.D. student who was planning to graduate in five years (Spring ’22 as I completed my A-exams in April), I am overcome with even greater uncertainty than this year had already brought. There is no way I can squeeze 18-20 months’ work into six months; and, if this were to be implemented, I cannot stay in Ithaca longer than next May. I have spent several years (not to mention effort and emotional investment) on my work; and, suddenly I am terrified that even if I were to complete my dissertation late next year, I would not be able to graduate.

We have been active members of the Cornell community for years, studying, writing, teaching, and are generally deeply passionate about our work. Given all the other uncertainty about the job market and so on, it is a terrifying, debilitating thought that we might not have anything to show for the years we have put into our Ph.D.

Thank you, and I apologize for piling on in what I am sure are complicated times.

With best regards,

Terrified and on the Verge of Panic


Dear Terrified and on the Verge of Panic,

Please don’t panic about this possible rule change! It’s important to understand that there has not been any change in immigration regulations at this time. The Department of Homeland Security’s proposed rule is still in the public comment period. Comments submitted by international students will be read and considered during this phase of the rule-making process, and your voice will be amplified by your U.S. classmates, faculty, and advocates who are also submitting their comments and contacting their elected representatives.

Cornell’s Office of Government Affairs is actively working to both seek clarification on the impacts of this proposed rule and to articulate concerns about the potential negative impacts for international students. Cornell is partnering with other universities and national organizations to raise the profile of this important issue. Of course, this messy democratic rule-making process is taking place against the backdrop of a national election that could also shape the outcome of this proposal.

I want to clear up a couple of apparent misunderstandings.  The proposed rule does not require that Ph.D. students finish their degree within two or four years.  What it does appear to indicate is that F1 student visas would be issued for an initial duration of two or four years and would then need to be renewed. This differs from the current “duration of status” approach that allows most students on F1 visas to remain in the U.S. for as long as they are enrolled in a degree program. If the rule is implemented we would expect that new incoming Ph.D. students might receive a visa that is valid for four years and would then need to renew for an additional two years if their studies are not complete. Guidance shared by Cornell’s Office of Global Learning indicates that current students would retain their current visa status for up to four years, with the ability to renew:

Q: What does the proposed rule say about the status of F and J non-immigrants who are currently in the United States?

F and J nonimmigrants who are properly maintaining their status would be authorized to remain in the United States in F and J status until the end date on their Form I-20 or DS-2019, not to exceed a period of 4 years from the final rule’s effective date, plus a grace period of 60 days for F nonimmigrants and 30 days for J nonimmigrants. If they need additional time to complete their current course of study or exchange visitor program, including requests for post-completion optional practical training (OPT) or STEM OPT, or would like to start a new course of study, they would have to apply for an extension of stay.

The Office of Global Learning has just posted new information to its website on this complex topic.

While I know that this proposed rule may be disappointing, I hope this information helps alleviate the worry that rule changes would prohibit a current student from finishing their degree. If you have more specific questions about visa status please reach out to the Office of Global Learning’s International Services (international@cornell.edu) directly and I know they will help connect you with the most up-to-date information.



Jason Kahabka
Associate Dean for Administration