This month, students across the country are back to school in their cramped dorm rooms with their expensive textbooks. Back to school season offers a fresh perspective to examine the issues within higher education. One of those issues which receives less attention is student visa policy and the options available for foreign students post-graduation.
The impact of foreign students on the American economy is substantial and current student visa policy hinders those students ability to contribute their skills and talents.
Last week in Real Clear Policy I detailed the current landscape of student visa policy following a recent ruling by a U.S. district judge on OPT extensions. Student visas expire just 60 days after graduation giving students limited time to apply for jobs.
As I write in the piece, it’s economically destructive to identify the world’s best and brightest students, equip them with valuable skills at American universities, and then disallow them from using those skills to energize the U.S. economy. It’s an inherently anti-competitive policy.
About 800,000 foreign students attend school in the U.S. each year. These are bright-eyed millennials looking to live and learn in the U.S. as they adopt the language and values of their fellow college students. The U.S. Department of Commerce found that in the 2013-2014 school year, international students contributed nearly $28 billion to the U.S. economy.
Following graduation, some fortunate and highly-skilled students can win the H-1B lottery and receive work authorization but this is the exception, not the rule. The others will fall out of status after the sixty day window closes for them to pack up their dorm rooms and hop a flight home.
But most students will apply for the popular Optional Practical Training (OPT) program which offers work authorization after graduation. As of last year, about 100,000 students were enrolled. In 2008, President Bush extended eligibility to STEM graduates from 12 to 29 months and in 2012, President Obama approved more fields of study for the extension.
But also in 2012 came a lawsuit from the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers challenging the STEM extension. Last month, U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle threw out the 2008 rule extending OPT, citing violation of an administrative rule. DHS will rewrite their rule but this is a setback for OPT extensions.
These are the student visa reforms I suggest in the piece:
First, foreign students should be given more than 60 days to find work. If lawmakers want to invest in America’s economic future, they should ensure that foreign-born college graduates remain in the United States and not take their talents elsewhere.
Second, visas for highly educated foreign students in graduate programs should increase from the current cap of 20,000. Graduate students contribute significantly to the American economy they will be a driving force in creating new jobs and promoting economic growth in the United States in years to come.
Third, OPT extensions should continue for STEM undergraduates, and non-STEM graduates should be eligible for extensions as well.
Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, testified to the Committee on Science and Technology in 2008 on reforming the U.S. immigration and education systems. He argued that without reform in both arenas, “US companies simply will not have the talent they need to innovate and compete.” Gates advocated similar reforms as are listed above.
Foreign students should have a longer grace period after graduation so they can find jobs, internships, or opportunities and thus use their newly minted skill sets and knowledge to contribute to the U.S. economy.
Read the full piece here.