It starts with the student visa process, which is one component of a broken immigration system. At the end of the day, the only issues that really matter are: 1) ability to pay; and 2) whether or not the applicant is a terrorist.
The first question in the holy trinity of the vetting process – are you a bona fide student? – has already been answered by the admitting institution. (Recommendation: Take unaccredited institutions out of the equation because “bona fide student” and “rogue provider” are a contradiction in terms.)
The third question – what are your post-graduation plans?, i.e., to return to your home country – should also be jettisoned. Emigration is a personal decision and, Lord knows, the US needs a certain percentage of international students to remain for the long-term, if not forever. With a median age of 38+ the population isn’t getting any younger, plus, there’s also a shortage of skilled workers in key fields.
NOTE: Six (6) winners of Nobel Prizes affiliated with US universities are foreign born. (See America’s Immigrant Laureates. 11.10.16, Inside Higher Ed)
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Excerpt from The New Colossus, a sonnet by American poet Emma Lazarus, 1883
It’s rare that I write a post about a Facebook (FB) comment. My FB page consists mostly of current events updates and commentary and the occasional photo. I don’t tell my FB friends how I’m feeling, where I’m traveling to or what I had for dinner last night. (The main reason I stay on FB is because of what I learn from some very smart and well-connected FB friends not because of fluff that’s neither here nor there.)
I recently posted a link to a March 2015 article entitled9 basic concepts Americans fail to grasp with the subtitle A lack of worldliness is clouding our vision on everything from sex to economics, and the proof is in our policies. I highlighted point #3. (I would argue that this doesn’t apply only to “neocons” and the “Tea Party” but to the majority of US Americans. If you doubt this assertion, I’m happy to provide ample evidence to back it up.)
3. American Exceptionalism Is Absolute Nonsense in 2015
No matter how severe the U.S.’ decline becomes, neocons and the Tea Party continue to espouse their belief in “American exceptionalism.” But in many respects, the U.S. of 2015 is far from exceptional. The U.S. is not exceptional when it comes to civil liberties (no country in the world incarcerates, per capita, more of its people than the U.S.) or healthcare (WHO ranks the U.S. #37 in terms of healthcare). Nor is the U.S. a leader in terms of life expectancy: according to the WHO, overall life expectancy in the U.S. in 2013 was 79 compared to 83 in Switzerland and Japan, 82 in Spain, France, Italy, Sweden and Canada and 81 in the Netherlands, Germany, Norway, Austria and Finland.
A Vietnamese FB friend responded thus: I couldn’t agree more with the points the article makes. Those are the issues that some socially conscious Americans are aware of. At the same time though, how the world sees the US matters. Uncle Sam remains the most desired population for migrants: 23% of the potential migrants would like to get their hands on those Green Cards, more than triple the percentage of the UK, the 2nd nation on the list. (Said FB friend cited the two sources below.) If we think that desirability could be a proxy, those stats do make a case for some degree of exceptionalism.
I agree – how the world sees the US does matter. That’s a mixed bag, to say the least. For example, the international community views the US as thegreatest threat to world peace – with Pakistan a distant 2nd. US Americans might want to ask themselves why that is. That’s the ugly of the good, the bad and the ugly. But i digress – kind of.
Here’s my response which, as you can see, transcends the limits of a typical FB one-liner.
The fact that the US “remains the most desired population for migrants” is not the result of its “exceptionalism.” There are many different reasons and circumstances. I list seven (7) below. There are realities other than the party line that the USA is the best thing since sliced bread. My main point is that it’s not as cut-and-dried as your comment indicates.
1) Misperception Trumps Reality. You know, the idea that the streets are paved with gold, there’s a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage, it’s the land of endless opportunity and all that jazz, i.e., cultural mythology that many US Americans buy into, a mountain of evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. (As Friedrich Nietzsche once observed, Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.) Don’t underestimate the power and influence of the US MSM (mainstream media), Hollywood and, to a much lesser extent (much to their dismay), the ongoing charm offensive of the US embassies and consulates around the world, including in Vietnam.
2) International Students Who Emigrate. As you know from personal experience and in general, lots of international students make the fateful decision to work for the long term, become permanent residents, and maybe even citizens. They find a great job, are working in fields in which there are not many, if any, opportunities in their home countries, fall in love, etc. Frankly speaking, the US desperately needs a certain percentage of you to remain because of the graying of the population, labor shortages in certain fields, a lack of native-born US Americans studying key subjects, etc.
The USG will eventually be forced to reform its immigration policy to recognize this reality, not likely in the current (nationalistic, hoorah!) climate. I predict that someday, in the not too distant future, international students will no longer have to do that little dance about “plans to return to your home country” during the visa interview because it will be a moot point.
4) The House Slave Syndrome. “Over and over again, the U.S. has instigated mayhem or carnage overseas, generating thousands if not millions of refugees, many of whom longing to escape, paradoxically, it seems, to the source of their suffering. You beat and humiliate me, so can I move in?” In many cases, ironically, immigrants are flocking to the US to escape dire circumstances in their home countries created by, guess who, the USG and its military.
How many recent immigrants fall into this category? Let’s use Vietnam as an example. If the US had not sabotaged the Geneva Accords of 1954 and thrown its financial and military weight behind that artificial entity known as the Republic of Vietnam, its one-time client state, there would have been a national election in 1956 that President HCM would have won, thus unifying the country. That means probably no 2nd Indochina War/American War in Vietnam, 3.8 million would not have been murdered, and there probably wouldn’t be over 1.5 million overseas Vietnamese in the US today.
5) Simple Logic. Conditions in the US are much better than in many countries so it’s not surprising that people would want to go there in search of a better life. It is a large and, in selected areas, a diverse country. You don’t even have to learn English if you belong to an ethnic group with a large community there. (Think Quận Cam, or Orange County, if you’re a Vietnamese-American or VA wannabe.) I know one fairly recent immigrant from Vietnam whose father was a low-ranking soldier in the ARVN and a farmer by trade who applied to the Orderly Departure Program (ODP) in its waning days. (The ODP began in 1980 and ended in 1997. During that time, 623,509 Vietnamese were resettled abroad, of whom more than 450,000 went to the US.) The main reason? So that his children could get a better education, which they have. Future plans? This young man is returning to live in Vietnam and his parents are planning to retire to their hometown. Good deal all around, I’d say.
6) Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI). Only a government bureaucrat could come up with this name. Here’s the description on the Study in the States (Homeland Security) website: The United States military is a vital part of our nation’s security. International students interested in serving in the military may be eligible for a program called Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI). This program allows certain non-citizens who are legally present in the United States and hold critical skills to join the U.S. military. People with critical skills, including physicians, nurses, and experts in certain languages with associated cultural backgrounds, are in great demand.
Think of it as roll of the dice and/or a deal with the devil. If you agree to enlist, you can become a permanent resident (they’ll even help you!) and, eventually, a citizen. Then you can enjoy all of the attendant benefits of living in the US, if you survive the latest war du jour that you’ve been sent to fight in and return to the US unscathed, physically and psychologically. My sources tell me that the US military is now casting a wider net, i.e., not limited to those who “hold critical skills,” because it needs more recruits, more warm bodies, more cannon fodder, so to speak. (That’s what happens when you have 1,000 bases around the world and are spending $700 billion a year on your military. Got to feed the ravenous beast!)
7) Give Me Your Wealthy. You can essentially buy a green card through the EB-5 program and become an immigrant investor. Cost: $1 million or $500,000, depending upon location and circumstances. (Assuming the project is successful, this money is returned to the investor with a very low interest rate.) This is popular among some foreigners of means who are looking to hedge their bets because of instability, potential instability or perceptions of instability at home. So, yes, green cards are for sale, if you have the requisite cash.
There’s more to be said but this is, after all, only a blog post not a feature article. (What did I overlook? Point #8, anyone?) Your thoughts?
P.S.: Thanks to my FB friend for raising this issue.
According to the 2014 Open Doors report, released by the Institute of International Education, there are 886,052 international students in the US, which makes it the world’s leading host. (There are now a total of 1.13 million F & M students studying in the US, according to the 2/15 SEVIS quarterly update. That includes all levels of education.) That’s not surprising given the high level of interest in StudyUSA over the years and the sheer size of the US higher education system.
A more useful way of looking at international enrollment trends, however, is to focus on market share. That picture is not so rosy. Of the more than 4.5 million students enrolled outside of their home countries in 2012, 75% were studying in developed countries and over half came from Asia, with China (22%), India and S. Korea taking the top three places. As a 2014 global migration report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) revealed, about 25% of all international students were in the US. Ten years later, that figure dropped to 16% while all other English-speaking countries, including the UK (12.6%) and Spain increased their share of international students.
According to the OECD, the number of students studying overseas will nearly double by 2025 to 8 million. Time will tell if and when the US is able to take advantage of this trend.
Here’s a partial list – in no particular order. Feel free, dear reader, to add to it.
Lack of a comprehensive official US international education policy
State and Commerce are often at odds with each other even though they represent the same government
A sense of resting on one’s laurels – the US built it and they came back in the day but it has been losing market share since 2000
Counterproductive immigration policies, e g., international students can only work on campus, are limited in their post-graduate employment opportunities, both temporary (OPT) and permanent (H1B) and, while possible, the transition from student to green card holder to citizen is not an easy one nor it is officially sanctioned
Regarding the previous points, other countries such as Australia and Canada are much more welcoming, hospitable and realistic vis-à-vis the need (e.g., the graying of their populations) for a certain percentage of international students in certain fields to stay, work and emigrate
Another factor is cost. A global report released by HSBC last year based on a survey of more than 4,500 parents in 15 countries, found that Australia is the most expensive place in the world to study, followed by Singapore and the US.
Interestingly, the US is currently the world’s leading of Vietnamese students, which says something about preferences and ability to pay. The US recently “overtook” Australia in this friendly competition for Vietnamese and other international students. Using Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) statistics for 2013, the latest year for which they’re available, there were 125,000 young Vietnamese studying overseas. The percentage distribution was as follows:
1) Australia (26,015): 20.8%
2) United States (19,591): 15.7%
3) Japan (13,328): 10.7%
4) China (13,000): 10.4%
5) Singapore (10,000): 8%
As you can see, the top five countries comprise nearly two-thirds of total overseas enrollment for Vietnamese students. The following countries rounded out the top ten:
6) France (6,700)
7) Taiwan (6,000)
8) UK (5,118)
9) Russia (5,000)
10) Germany (4,600)
The bottom line, literally and figuratively, is that individual US institutions of higher education, sometimes working cooperatively (e.g., from the same region, a community college and a state university) have to map out their own strategies for different target markets, keeping in mind that one size doesn’t fit all.
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.