When President Obama announced his executive action on immigration in November, millions of undocumented people welcomed the expanded protections that the reform offered. What grabbed headlines abroad, however, were minor tweaks to visa policies—revisions that are likely to affect as many as 256,000 foreign workers in the U.S. But these changes don’t come close to making sense of the immigration system for foreign students, who study in American universities and who are kicked out before they have a chance to work in or contribute to U.S. society.
Thus begins this excellent piece by Claire Groden, which appeared in the 2 December 2014 edition of New Republic. Hers is an important topic that I’ve discussed here and elsewhere. The US population is graying at a steady pace with a current median age of 37.6 years (36.3 male – 39 female), almost on par with Canada, at 41.7. In the not too distant future it will resemble Germany and Japan, with median ages of 47.2 and 47.5, respectively. This is yet another compelling justification for recruiting more international students and encouraging some to stay, in addition to diversity, i.e., bringing the world to domestic students, and revenue.
As of 2013, the US had 45,785,090 immigrants, which amounted to 14.3% of its population and 19.8% of immigrants worldwide, according to the United Nations report Trends in International Migrant Stock: The 2013 Revision. Immigrants, especially those who are highly educated and skilled, among them international graduates of US colleges and universities, are the lifeblood of the US economy in some sectors. The country desperately needs a certain percent of them to remain for the long-term, if not for the rest of their lives.
In Attracting International Students: Can American Higher Education Maintain Its Leadership?, Rahul Choudaha notes that the popularity of the US as a host country for international students has been waning in recent years. (Some of the reasons for this are clear, including the perils associated with resting on one’s laurels and the lack of a national internationalization strategy.) While it remains the leading destination in terms of numbers, with 886,052 international students in 2013/14, an increase of 55% from 2003/04, according to the Institute of International Education (IIE), the post-9/11 US market share declined from 23% in 2000 to 16% in 2012. The UK and Australia have attracted growing numbers of international students.
Canada, a country with 35 million citizens and about 100 postsecondary institutions, has seen the number of its international students jump 84% in 10 years, to 293,505 in 2013, according to the Canadian Bureau for International Education, and OECD figures show that Canada’s share of the world’s students has increased from 4.5 percent in 2000 to 4.9 percent in 2012. As this September 2014 Inside Higher Ed article points out, the fact is that “both the federal and provincial governments are paying increasing attention to international student recruitment as part of a broader skilled immigration strategy.” It’s a lesson the US government would be well-advised to learn from its neighbor to the north.
Finally, as I mentioned in this 2012 post, “Patent Pending: How Immigrants Are Reinventing The American Economy”, support for visa policy reform has come from the most unlikely of places, The White House. In his 2011 State of the Union Address, President Obama made two references to international students. The first, not surprisingly, was that the US is “home to the world’s best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any place on Earth”. The second, which offered another perspective on this ongoing debate, was about international students who end up competing against the US and the need to allow some of them to remain.
One last point about education. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens… Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities. But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us. It makes no sense.