Supporting our International Community

Photo: Toni Bird

As we’ve navigated this difficult year, one thing that has become clear is that the pandemic affects members of our Stanford community in many different ways. Stanford’s international community, in particular, has faced significant challenges, contending with border closures and travel obstacles alongside new federal regulations that have created additional uncertainty. As we look ahead to a new year, we remain committed to supporting our international community members and their ability to study and work at Stanford. 

Stanford’s international students, scholars and staff are important to our university. They contribute to a diverse and inclusive community in which all students have the opportunity to think critically about their own views and deepen their knowledge about our world. They bring unique perspectives to our classrooms and our research teams, enriching the learning environment and helping us find more creative and effective solutions to the world’s problems. 

Unfortunately, the immigration landscape has become increasingly challenging for international students and scholars in recent months. We were pleased that the federal government heard the concerns of higher education and reversed its initial decision to require continuing international students to leave the United States if they would not be taking in-person classes this fall due to the pandemic. However, additional federal rule changes—including a proposed rule that would limit the duration of stay for some visa holders to two or four years, rather than the full length of their program, and new rules that would substantially restrict the H-1B visa program—make life uncertain for international students and scholars, and for the many members of our community who rely on their contributions. 

They bring unique perspectives to our classrooms and our research teams, enriching the learning environment and helping us find more creative and effective solutions to the world’s problems.

In the face of these rule changes, Stanford is working with our national associations and peer institutions to advocate for policies that better support our international community. In October, we joined universities, businesses and research organizations in a court challenge to the H-1B visa changes. H-1B visas bring foreign scientists, medical professionals, artists and others to the United States to work in fields where there are shortages of specialized workers. They greatly benefit the institutions and communities they are a part of, including Stanford. It’s critical that we maintain this vital program.  

We also submitted an official comment letter to the Department of Homeland Security about the proposed changes to visa duration rules. The proposal notes concern about safeguarding national security, but we believe that current mechanisms in place for visa oversight are sufficient to address this concern. If allowed to go into effect, these changes would create significant additional hurdles, expense and uncertainty for students and scholars. They would also reinforce the perception of the United States as inhospitable to foreign nationals, to the detriment of Stanford and, ultimately, of our country. 

COVID-19 has highlighted what we’ve long known to be true: Our biggest challenges are global.

Maintaining international bonds in research and education will be crucial in the years to come because COVID-19 has highlighted what we’ve long known to be true: Our biggest challenges are global. The benefits of international collaboration are clear—from the outset of the pandemic, knowledge from scientists and public health experts in China, South Korea and other countries that had early experience with the virus was crucial to understanding COVID-19. We will need to work with international partners to find solutions to the world’s great challenges, from emerging diseases to climate change to poverty. 

Limiting international students and scholars from studying and working in the United States not only harms them—it impedes our ability to educate future leaders, drive discovery and innovation, and fuel economic progress. In the months ahead, we’ll continue to advocate for immigration policies that support our international community and advance the exchange of people and ideas around the world.


Marc Tessier-Lavigne is the president of Stanford University.