What the United States Can Learn from the British on Immigration Reform and International Students

August 08, 2013

By Katie O'Connell

Did you see the news earlier this week that the British government has a new strategy to recruit 90,000 more international students by 2018? This means a 20% increase in international students in five years. Why are they taking this bold step? Because British lawmakers see international education as an important growth sector that provides widespread economic, cultural, academic, and diplomatic benefits for the country.

The United States could, and should, do the same. NAFSA has long advocated for an inter-agency international education strategy from the federal government. But a different opportunity presents itself right now – the opportunity for commonsense, comprehensive immigration reform that would make the United States more competitive and more welcoming to international students.

The United States is in a global competition with other countries, including the United Kingdom, for talented international students and scholars. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the number of international students studying worldwide nearly doubled from 2.1 million to 4.1 million over the past decade. During that same time frame, the number of international students studying in the United States grew by only 31%, yet the percentage share of international students worldwide studying in the United States decreased by 10%. With their new strategy, the U.K. is taking action, while the United States risks falling behind the longer we delay improving our immigration policies to better reflect the needs of global mobility and U.S. academic competitiveness. (Read more about the economic value of international students on the NAFSA blog).

In June, the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration bill: S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013. Because of NAFSA’s advocacy efforts, several key provisions that are favorable to international education were included in the final bill.

One of these provisions is known as “dual intent.” Under current immigration law, much of it dating back to 1952, before obtaining a visa to study in the United States, international students have to prove significant ties to their home country and show no intent to immigrate to the United States. This is anachronistic; educated students are exactly the kinds of immigrants we should encourage to stay in the United States. The Senate bill changes this with “dual intent,” which grants students the option to choose to immigrate if the opportunity arises following their studies.

The Senate’s bill also includes an efficient and inclusive pathway to citizenship for the 11 million men, women, and children who are our neighbors, go to our schools and our churches, run businesses, yet are living in the shadows. If our government does not resolve this issue, we will send a message to the world that immigrants are neither needed nor welcome here. America’s great success is due in large part to the contributions of the many talented and ambitious immigrants who were drawn here because of the opportunity, equality, and freedom offered. To ensure this success story continues, we need a commonsense, comprehensive immigration reform bill from Congress that the president can sign.

The Senate did their job in June, and now it is time for the House of Representatives to act. While we wait, countries like the United Kingdom and others are moving forward with their more welcoming immigration plans and strategies. Do we want to be left behind in this global race for talent? Do we want to jeopardize our nation’s legacy of welcoming immigrants, of opportunity, equality, and freedom?

Members of the House of Representatives are home in their districts this month, and they want to hear from you on immigration. You can do your part in this historic moment by taking the pledge at www.connectingourworld.org/speakout to complete three high-impact activities this month that will not take up much of your time, but will make a difference. If we all take the pledge, Congress will have to listen.

Will you take the pledge to speak out for commonsense, comprehensive immigration reform? Learn more at www.connectingourworld.org/speakout and share with friends and colleagues on Facebook and on Twitter with #TakeItToTheHouse.


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