Students from around the world coming to the US to pursue advanced degrees face a harsh reality of “being turned away” from their dream of working in the country due to “restrictive immigration policies”, a US congress sub-committee has heard.
Chaired by senator Alex Padilla, the subcommittee on immigration, citizenship, and border safety held a hearing on “Strengthening our Workforce and Economy through Higher Education and Immigration”.
“Enrolment of international students is falling. Potential international students are increasingly questioning whether it is worth it to come to study if there’s no path for them to stay and to work after graduation,” said Padilla.
“Meanwhile, other countries who compete with us for economic and political leadership are making it more attractive for international students to come to their universities, and stay. They’re more than eager to recruit the students who are no longer coming to the United States. And why wouldn’t they be?” he continued.
It is not the first time the senator has publicly backed the international education sector. Padilla appealed to the US government over “continued concerns” about student visa delays in 2021.
Meanwhile, the hearing, which took place on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the introduction of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, also highlighted that hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients still “face roadblocks and uncertainty” based on their immigration status.
The Presidents’ Alliance made a statement for the record regarding the hearing, where it insisted congress needs to pass a “permanent solution” for DACA recipients.
“All students deserve access to affordable higher education,” it said.
“No student should be denied access to higher education or financial aid based on their immigration status alone – congress has the ability to make statutory changes to clear the way for any student to pursue higher education and a later career,” it explained.
It also agreed with Padilla that the US is “losing its edge” among global talent recruitment, and insisted it was an issue of “bipartisan concern”.
“Our graduate science programs are particularly dependent on international students and scholars”
“International students are vital contributors to our knowledge and innovation agenda, and our graduate science programs are particularly dependent on international students and scholars,” the Presidents’ Alliance stated.
“Congress should articulate the value of international students and send a message that they are welcome to succeed here by enacting proactive policies that help us attract, welcome and retain students,” it continued.
Senator John Cornyn relented that the US immigration system was “struggling to keep pace” with demand in the workforce.
“Per country caps have artificially limited access to employment-based visas for prospective immigrants from countries like India, preventing workers who want to contribute to our economy from being able to do so,” he said at the hearing.
“I look forward to working with my colleagues to develop balanced, bipartisan policies to update our immigration system and meets the needs of today’s economy,” Cornyn added.
Dalia Larios, who is on the Harvard Radiation Oncology Program at Harvard Medical School in Boston, is a DACA recipient, and spoke to the committee about the struggles she faced as a child of 10 years old coming to the US with her parents.
“I constantly worried my parents would be taken away by ICE and never come home… the spectre of my undocumented status has overshadowed nearly every transition in my life… state laws classified me as an international student,” she told committee attendees.
During questions, Cornyn asked Larios what she believes congress should prioritise – providing stability for DACA recipients, or providing employment based green cards for people with advanced degrees.
“On topics like this, it’s common to want to pit immigrants against each other and try and figure out who is more deserving of these guarantees. I don’t personally consider myself more deserving than anyone else,” Larios replied.
“I really urge for broad protection, for everyone to have the same opportunities that I’ve been able to have. Congress should approach this in a comprehensive manner. Lives are at stake here – it extends beyond a piece of paper,” she added.
In its own statement for the record, NAFSA insisted that the best way forward to solve these issues was a proper, documented strategy on international education.
“It is not by accident that other countries are succeeding in attracting talent… the US needs a national strategy to prioritise resources and ensure collaboration and compromise within and across key federal agencies,” NAFSA said. It called for a national strategy to return international student enrolment to pre-Covid-19 levels in November 2021.
“Any robust international student recruitment effort… must be paired with transparent, efficient and reliable visa processing and welcoming immigration policy,” it added.
A first step for congress, NAFSA said, would be to allow international student visa applicants to express interest in remaining in the US after graduation.
The organisation was previously hopeful that the US Citizenship Act of 2021, introduced in mid-February 2021, would extend dual intent to F-1 students. That would mean that students would no longer be required to show an intent during visa application to depart the US when they complete their studies. However, the act remains stalled in congress.
“International students often choose which country to study in based on the opportunities to work following graduation,” said Bernard A. Burrola, VP for international, community and economic engagement at the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, at the hearing.
“Our immigration law is the only one we know of that means you’re welcome to study, but you can’t stay”
“An advanced degree in the STEM fields should be a ticket to a green card, giving certainty to students and employers… the US still penalises prospective students in the visa process if they express an intent to stay in the US after graduation.
“Our immigration law is the only one we know of that means you’re welcome to study, but you can’t stay,” Burrola added.
The economic imperative for attracting international students post graduation is “already clear”, Burrola said, but with DACA recipients, that imperative is also a moral one.
“For many, they were brought the US at such an early age, they can remember no other country as home… they are Americans in every way except citizenship.
“If DACA were to end, the economy would lose 22,000 jobs – and yet these undocumented people remain in an untenable situation,” he added.
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