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New Guidelines Toughen Enforcement on Student Visa Violations

The new U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services policy could affect thousands of international students in Houston.

International students will start accruing days of ‘unlawful presence' immediately after they no longer meet the terms of their student visa, according to a new U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services policy.

Once a student accrues more than six months of unlawful presence, they could be barred from re-entering the United States for three to ten years.


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Though rules barring re-entry have remained the same, what has changed is the point at which the government starts the clock to count days of unlawful presence.

Beforehand, the government counted unlawful presence only when a Department of Homeland Security officer or immigration judge formally identified that a student had violated their status.

The new policy makes it harder for international students who take a semester off to stay in the country and resume their studies later.

"While before they could maybe try to fix the situation down the line while still in the United States, that is now is becoming tremendously difficult with this new memo because now these people are collecting unlawful presence," said immigration attorney Sara Goldberg.

Goldberg said a lot of things can cause a student to lose their legal status, like not being able to afford classes for a semester.

"It's negatively impacting them (international students) in a way that they are more limited in their options for recourse than they were before this memo," Goldberg said.

According to a report by ICE, over 86,000 international students study in Texas. The state has the third highest population of international students in the country.

International enrollment numbers at University of Houston has averaged at around 4,000 in the past five years.