NAFSA's Counsel and Director of Immigration Policy, Heather Stewart, went to Capitol Hill on March 13, 2019 to join a panel of colleagues in briefing Congress on the issues driving international students to choose to study in more competitive countries. Additionally, the panel gave evidence of the great value of international students to American institutions. Heather was joined by David Di Maria, Associate Vice Provost for International Education at University of Maryland, Jon Baselice, Executive Director of Immigration Policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Kinu Harichandran, an international student at Georgetown University.
David Di Maria started the briefing emphasizing the value that international students bring to institutions and businesses where research and development (R&D) are valued and global competition is increasing: "A major study of more than one million scientific papers found those published with an international co-author are more likely to appear in a top-tier academic journal and have a higher citation impact than other articles in that journal. [And] according to the World Bank, a 10% increase in the number of international graduate students raises patent applications by 4.5%." He later cited NAFSA's own economic value tool showing the 455,000 jobs that international students support and the nearly $40 billion they contribute to the U.S. economy.
Heather Stewart continued the conversation by highlighting the challenges and uncertainties students face when coming to study in the U.S., from applying for a student visa to restrictions on experiential learning and practical training options. Di Maria cited the 6.6% decline in new international student enrollment in 2017-2018 while other countries, like Canada with a reported 20% increase, have growing enrollment. "International students are looking at the U.S. to show that we want them to come here," Stewart said in a request for a public show of support from members of Congress for international students. A tweet or floor statement, can be a first step in keeping the U.S. a top choice for study in a competitive field.
Jon Baselice and Kinu Harichadran further supported Heather's statement. Baselice centered his remarks on businesses in the U.S. and their desire to fill vacancies with a diverse and accomplished workforce, which includes international students, but is constrained by the immigration system's lotteries and caps. Harichadran, who is from India and currently working on her PhD in microbiology, shared her personal struggles with the U.S. student visa process and the uncertainty it brought to her research and university. The 7-8 weeks of waiting for a visa renewal caused lost time at her university which created a setback for her studies and her professors. Baselice noted how "[this] kind of uncertainty saps economic growth" and Harichadran mentioned the hesitation professors have when working with international students whose research may be interrupted by unexpected visa processing times.
International students who do choose to study in the U.S. and successfully navigate our complex immigration system are an asset to American universities and communities. As Kinu Harichadran said, "It's a mutually beneficial relationship," and one the United States must continue to value and foster.
Jess McCune is a Public Policy Intern at NAFSA: Association of International Educators.