The United States has been broadly known as a nation of immigrants and their descendants. As the country gradually recovers from the recent economic crisis, the importance of economic and social benefits of immigration becomes clearer than ever before. According to the latest government figures, U.S. population growth is projected to tumble almost in half over the next three decades while the growth in the working-age population is expected to decrease even more. Thus, immigrants who help boost the size of the population, labor force and customer base represent an important factor spurring the nation’s economic growth. However, despite a number of immigration programs introduced by the country’s government, the U.S. has been keeping itself from taking advantage of the additional spending and knowledge international citizens would provide to our economy.
After successful completion of their studies, many international students have been leaving the U.S. because the country’s current visa system makes it challenging for them to stay. In this situation, the U.S. has been losing not only financially since it prevents the foreign students from starting their own businesses and adding more money into the economy by spending but also intellectually as many talented graduates subsequently leave and use their knowledge elsewhere rather than struggle with the U.S. immigration system. A recent study indicated that few international students would like to stay in the U.S. permanently, and most of them plan to return to their home countries within five years after graduation. According to the findings, the biggest concern of the vast majority of foreign students is obtaining visas and jobs in fields of their interest.
Despite the recent data suggesting significance of their contribution to the country’s economy, U.S. politicians have still been failing to pass legislation making the paths of international students easier. Based on figures published by the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers (NAFSA), international students and their families at universities and colleges across the country supported 313,000 jobs and added $24 billion to the U.S. economy during the 2012-2013 academic year, a 6.2% increase in job support and creation and a nearly 10% rise in dollars contributed to the economy from the previous academic year. Moreover, there are positive impacts of international students, such as U.S. innovation through science and engineering coursework, programming and services on campus for all students by paying out-of-state tuition funded largely from non-U.S. sources. It also helps build bridges between the U.S. and other countries and brings global perspectives into U.S. classrooms. Nevertheless, foreign students do not have many options of how to stay in the U.S. after graduation.
Under the current immigration system, they can apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT), a 12-month or 17-month (in case the student studies one of the STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics – fields) full-time practical training at each educational level, or some kind of visa, such as H-3 trainee or L-1 visa. While both the OPT and H-3 visa programs restrict the student to stay within a specified time frame, the L-1 visas are meant only for foreign businesses with employees working on U.S. territory. Therefore, if U.S. employers want to hire a foreign student to work in the U.S., they usually rely on the H-1B visa program. Nevertheless, this program permits the students to work only up to six years after graduation and even if employers eventually sponsor the H-1B workers for a green card to stay permanently in the U.S., the wait time can exceed 10 years. Furthermore, this category is restrained by quota. In 2010, there were 86,567 new H-1B visas approved but only 26,502 of them went to U.S. foreign students.
Although this problem is just part of a much broader immigration issue, it definitely deserves full attention. Foreign students bring many positive aspects into U.S. classrooms. They help the domestic students explore new cultures, broaden variety of opinions at the class, as well as maintain tolerance in the entire U.S. society. Therefore, I believe it is necessary to find the right solution to this issue and encourage the foreign scholars not only to come but also stay and build U.S. intelligence.