Congressman Bill Owens (NY-21) today re-introduced legislation with Congressman Chris Gibson (NY-19) to help rural schools address decreases in student enrollment. The "Strengthening America's Public Schools Through Promoting Foreign Investment Act (H.R. 1139)" would ease restrictions on the nonimmigrant F-1 visa program for public schools with foreign exchange students.
"Recruiting foreign exchange students is one of many ways that innovative public schools are working to improve their bottom lines and continue providing a quality education to young students," Owens said. "This legislation is a common-sense, no-cost fix to a flaw in the current visa system that will help give local schools an opportunity to generate additional revenue in times of falling enrollment."
Congressman Gibson, an original co-sponsor of the bill, issued the following statement:
"This bill levels the playing field to ensure that our public schools can compete fairly with private and parochial schools for foreign exchange students," said Congressman Gibson. "I have heard directly from local educators and school board members about the importance of the F-1 visa program and how they need this commonsense reform. As a father of three children enrolled in public schools, I am committed to strengthening our local education systems, and this bill is a zero-cost measure to do just that."
As it stands today, foreign exchange students who attend public schools are only permitted one year of study while those same students may attend private and parochial schools with no restrictions.
Owens expressed optimism that allowing foreign students to stay longer while paying their own way could allow for better long-term planning by school districts and help them financially by generating revenue at no cost to the taxpayer. The change would also allow public schools to compete with private and parochial schools, for whom this restriction do not currently apply.
Newcomb Central School District Superintendent Skip Hults announced his support for the legislation and offered the following statement:
"If the current F-1 law is corrected and we are allowed to host international students for more than one year, there is no limit on how underutilized school districts like Newcomb can be transformed from near closing to growth," said We have almost doubled our population in the last 6 years. I was chosen by Education Week as one of the top 15 innovative educators for 2013, and it was for the international program. In the last few years, 16 different school districts have reached out to us to begin similar programs. It works, and grows underutilized schools, especially if the students can stay more than one year."
Owens previously introduced F-1 Visa legislation in the 112th Congress.