Urgent Action Needed on New Immigration Rules


October 19 update: Thank you all for your interest. I received emails over the weekend from students, voicing concern and asking for further information about your own situation in light of the “duration of stay” proposed changes. First, this “proposed rule” is not in effect yet and it is unclear when and if it will be implemented. Legal action to stop this implementation is in process, and it is possible that the rule will be stopped. If it is implemented, it will certainly harm universities and affect international students. Second, your university will have an “International office” (or some title like that). I suggest you reach out to your own international office for guidance about your particular situation. If you cannot find yours on the university website, ask your Department Chair or Graduate Director.

There are new immigration regulations recently published by the Trump administration that will harm the mathematics community. Here are short overviews of each:

  • The Department of Labor (DOL) has published an Interim Final Rule for High-Skilled Wages, with comments due November 9; this went into effect October 8 prior to considering and responding to public comments. This will affect H1-B visas, and make it more difficult for highly-skilled foreign workers with college degrees to acquire visas. International math post-docs often are employed with H1-B visas, and many international faculty members join their university with an H1-B visa. Salaries will have to be raised significantly, and Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of homeland security, said he expected the changes to cut by one-third the number of petitions filed annually for the coveted visas. The new required minimum wages may not be tenable for institutions of higher education. The rule may also result in US employers being positioned to pay foreign-born professionals more than their similarly employed American colleagues.
  • On September 25, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a Notice of Proposed Rule Making concerning the period of stay for foreign students and scholars in the F and J non-immigrant categories, with comments due October 26.  The rule will go into effect after the agency considers public comments. The new rule will eliminate the longstanding policy that allows students and scholars to remain in the US for “duration of status.” Under the proposed rule, “F or J nonimmigrants would be admitted into the United States for a period … not to exceed four years.” A typical mathematics PhD takes 5-6 years to complete. In addition, the duration of stay will be only two years for those from countries with visa-overstay rates greater than 10% and those non-US citizens either born in or holding citizenship of a country on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list. Many of these countries are in Asia and Africa. The American Immigration Council has posted a very nice summary, which includes a list of these countries.

 What can you do?


1.      Give official comments, either by yourself, or with a group of fellow students or faculty.

a.      Feedback for DOL about the wage rule should be given here: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/10/08/2020-22132/strengthening-wage-protections-for-the-temporary-and-permanent-employment-of-certain-aliens-in-the. Over 1000 comments have already been submitted.

b.      Feedback for DHS about the “duration of stay” rule should be given here: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/09/25/2020-20845/establishing-a-fixed-time-period-of-admission-and-an-extension-of-stay-procedure-for-nonimmigrant. Over 21,000 comments have already been submitted. But, please, don’t think this means yours is not needed! If you choose to do this, I found these eight pages of instructions, sample text and talking points useful (a tad hard to navigate but, in the end, good language and advice); it was produced by the President’s Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration and NAFSA. You might jump to “Guidance on Creating your Comment Letter” which begins at bottom of page 2. The “Talking Points might also prove useful; they appear pages 4-8.

2.      Tweet or otherwise share about these rules in social media, in whatever ways you are active.


3.      Write to DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, using this link. This link was set up by the American Physical Society, and we are welcome to use it. It allows you to customize and document how the rule will be harmful to science, the impact on you or someone you know, and how international students have been an asset to the US. Specifically, the link provides a prompt to enter your information (name and email) and then just three questions about the impacts of this rule and the importance of international students. Once you answer the questions, the software turns your answers into the body of your comment. You’ll then see a complete message, your answers bookended with a stock intro and conclusion, which you can edit before sending. Please note that this link is live, so only press send if you want to submit the comment.


Thank you for you interest, and for taking action to support our international students and colleagues.

About Karen Saxe

Karen Saxe is Director of the AMS Office of Government Relations which works to connect the mathematics community with Washington decision-makers who affect mathematics research and education. Over many years she has contributed much time to the AMS, MAA, and AWM, including service as vice president of the MAA and in policy and advocacy work with all three. She was the 2013-2014 AMS Congressional Fellow, working for Senator Al Franken on education issues, with focus on higher education and STEM education. In Minnesota she has served on the Citizens Redistricting Commission following the 2010 census and serves on the Common Cause Minnesota Redistricting Leadership Circle. She has three children and, when not at work especially enjoys being with them and reading, hiking and sharing good food and wine and beer with family and friends.
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4 Responses to Urgent Action Needed on New Immigration Rules

  1. William Beckner says:

    Professor Saxe — this is a really “stupid blog”. The real issues for Math faculty are
    support of their students and postdocs, and focus on their research.

    William Beckner

    • Ronnie Pavlov says:

      This is a shockingly insensitive comment. The article is a useful summary of possible huge new obstacles for international mathematics students and postdocs. It is therefore quite clearly related to support for those groups, who desperately need such support, now more than ever.

      Thanks so much to Prof. Saxe for highlighting and clearly summarizing these proposed changes, which are somehow flying under the media’s radar far more than the last failed attempt.

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