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Response to Department of Homeland Security Rule

Dear GSAS Students,

As many of you know, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a proposal to restrict visas for international students and scholars to two or four years. The proposed rule is open for public comment until October 26, 2020.

This past Friday, President Larry Bacow wrote to DHS Acting Regulatory Unit Chief Sharon Hageman stating in no uncertain terms the detrimental effect this rule would have on higher education in the United States, especially for Harvard’s many PhD and other doctoral students whose time to degree averages five to seven years. President Bacow’s letter was also posted as a public comment on the proposed rule, on behalf of the University.

GSAS is one of the most international schools at Harvard, with 35 percent of our students coming from outside the US. This ill-conceived and, frankly, cruel proposal would place an unnecessary administrative burden on our PhD students, who would have the added stress of seeking visa extensions in the middle of their academic studies without a guarantee that they will be granted. As President Bacow noted in his response, the additional extension requests that will inevitably arise will tax an already overburdened process with persistent backlogs.

But even more than that, this rule attacks one of our most important educational principles: that we are enriched by a variety of perspectives, that our collective work is made better by our many different voices. It is disheartening that this important principle is not fully appreciated by those who are pushing for this proposed rule to be enacted.

As someone who came to this country and lived and worked here on a visa for many years, I know the worry and concern our international students are feeling. As a new American citizen, I am concerned by the repeated attempts to limit international students’ ability to study in this country. I am pleased that President Bacow has advocated so strongly for Harvard’s students and that his response was posted as a public comment. Should you wish to add your own voice, the Federal Register provides the opportunity to submit a formal comment.

With all best wishes,


Emma Dench

Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

McLean Professor of Ancient and Modern History and of the Classics

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