Foreign Policy / Immigration / Politics

How Can International Students Boost the U.S. Economy? – Part II

Many international students have been leaving the United States after successful completion of their studies. The vast majority of them have been worried about obtaining visas and jobs in fields of their interest since the U.S. current immigration system does not offer any feasible way of how to stay in the country after graduation. Although it may not be apparent at the first glance, the situation has been consistently harming the U.S. economy because the foreign students cannot start their own businesses and add more money into the economy by spending. Furthermore, the country has been losing intellectually as many talented graduates subsequently leave and use their knowledge outside the U.S.

The issue of international students leaving the U.S. lately stirred a wave of interest in Congress since there were several legislative proposals over the past few years contemplating the idea of the creation of a green card for international students who receive graduate degrees in the STEM fields. With such legislation, the students would be allowed to work in the U.S. immediately after graduation. Brookings Institution estimates suggest that if the legislation passed, there would be about 96,200 foreign students holding F-1 visas in 2010 who could have become eligible for a green card upon graduation. However, there are more alternatives of how to make the path of international students easier.

For example, officials could introduce new visas which would be provided only to foreigners who have successfully finished their education in the U.S. The visa would allow the students to work for any employer but its expiration period would depend on the kind of degree the individuals achieved. For instance, associate and bachelor degree graduates could obtain the work visa for only one or two years while those with advanced degrees could be eligible for ten-year visas with the option of extension. This could also serve as a motivation for international students to continue their studies and apply for master’s and doctoral programs. Additionally, people graduating with master’s or PhDs from demanded fields (such as STEM) could be eligible for green cards while those who finished a language or other certification could obtain only a 3-month visa to be able to gain at least a short work experience during a seasonal job or internship.

Furthermore, there is an option of adjusting the current standards for F-1 student visa holders. Today, the U.S. international students may work only on campus for a maximum of 20 hours per week while school is in session and apply for OPT or CPT (curricular practical training) programs. The modified rules could allow college students enrolled in bachelor or master programs to work part-time (as they are required to study full-time) in the field of their program area until graduation. Such an option would offer foreign students possibility of finding employers who could potentially sponsor them for other types of visasf once their enrollment at school ends. Moreover, it would provide employers more time to recognize the students’ abilities and skills, potentially convincing them to hire the foreign graduates after completion of their studies.

Resolving the best solution to this issue is not easy because there are several conditions that politicians have to take into account. Above all, the final decision should be economically efficient, meaning that its economic benefits must exceed costs of its invention. Moreover, the policymakers must consider administrative burden associated with the change, so they need to weigh whether it is worth the effort to introduce a new legislation requiring a substantial amount of additional administrative work or rather modify the existing system. However, the officials should also not forget about the international students themselves, since the final solution should also mirror their needs and opinions.

Despite a number of worthwhile options, the problem of international students has been stuck in Congress. There were many “cleverly-named” legislative proposals, such as STAMPLE, STEM, STAR, BRAINS and SMART, but U.S. politicians have thus far failed to agree on any one of them. If you are wondering what is restraining the officials from taking an action, the answer is simple – job competition. The issue of foreign students represents just a part of a much broader immigration problem that has been addressed in many legislation proposals. However, the main argument of immigration reform opposition stays the same: ”American workers could lose jobs to immigrants.” But is this sentiment a valid one? There are a huge number of immigrants living in the U.S. (either legally or illegally) and they have been already working to be able to survive. Any type of reform will not likely change that fact.

As for the international students, the fact that politicians are willing to pin a green card to a university diploma from STEM fields proves the American graduates are not interested in these positions, some of which are currently the most wanted in today’s technical world. Therefore, I am confident that the foreigners could fill this gap and thus boost U.S. intelligence as well as help spur the country’s recovering economy.

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