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The Department of Homeland Security is discussing a proposal to require international students to reapply for permission to stay in the United States every year, a proposal that, if enacted, would create new costs and paperwork burdens and could dissuade international students from coming to the U.S., The Washington Post reported.

The Washington Post article quotes two anonymous senior officials with knowledge of the proposal, which is being put forward on national security grounds. It notes that the plan is preliminary, would require regulatory changes that would take at least 18 months to put in place and could require the agreement of the Department of State, which issues visas abroad, whereas the Department of Homeland Security monitors students once they're in the U.S.

The Post says that some senior officials are concerned that student visas, which allow students to transfer from one program to another and to switch degree levels, are too open-ended, and are also considering changes that would require students to reapply for permission to be in the United States after a specific end date associated with their program. An estimated 2.8 percent of students and exchange visitors overstay their visas, double the national average for visitors.

Reached by Inside Higher Ed, a DHS spokesman, David Lapan, said the department did not have anything to add beyond his comment in the Post story. The Post reported that Lapan declined to comment on the specific discussions but confirmed the international student program is among the immigration programs under review.

“DHS is exploring a variety of measures that would ensure that our immigration programs -- including programs for international students studying in the United States -- operate in a manner that promotes the national interest, enhances national security and public safety, and ensures the integrity of our immigration system,” Lapan is quoted as saying.

More than one million international students study in the U.S., contributing an estimated $32.8 billion to the U.S. economy, according to an analysis from NAFSA: Association of International Educators. Colleges have grown increasingly reliant on the tuition revenue they bring.

Jill Welch, NAFSA's deputy executive director for public policy, criticized the proposal in a statement to Inside Higher Ed. “While we have yet to see the details of a draft DHS proposal, the news reported by The Washington Post suggesting a potential move to require students to reapply for permission to stay in the United States each year would have grave consequences for our national security, foreign policy and economic interests, as well as America’s scientific and innovative strength,” she said. “As reported, this appears to be a duplicative and unnecessary process that would undoubtedly have a detrimental effect on our nation’s competitiveness.”

Welch continued, “Generations of foreign policy leaders agree that international students are an asset to our nation, not a threat. They benefit our communities and our campuses and remain the only actively monitored foreign population in the United States. We urge the Department of Homeland Security to consult carefully with stakeholders like NAFSA who have worked for decades to protect our security and increase our economic prosperity before making any rash decisions that can have potentially irreversible consequences.”

Currently institutions that host international students are required to monitor and report on their enrollment through the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System.