Visa Crunch

The high-end quality of academic programs at US universities can be attributed to the large pool of international students

According to a recent study by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP), a nonpartisan policy research organization, international students are a potential source of talent for US employers and make it possible for US universities to provide high-quality academic programs in science and engineering for American students.

The percentage of students in America pursuing graduate degrees (Master’s and Ph.D.’s) in disciplines such as computer and information sciences and electrical engineering would be small in comparison to the size of the US economy if international students were not present. Only 9,083 full-time American graduate students in electrical engineering were enrolled in US universities in 2019, particularly in comparison to 26,343 full-time international students. According to the NFAP press release, there have only been 17,334 full-time American graduate students in computer and information sciences in 2019, relative to 44,786 international graduate students at US universities. Universities in the United States can attract and retain faculty thanks to a large number of international students.

Foreign nationals make up 82 percent of full-time graduate students in petroleum engineering, 74% in electrical engineering, and 72% in computer and information sciences at US universities. Data from many US academic institutions demonstrates that maintaining important graduate programs without international students would be challenging. For example, in electrical engineering, international students account for the majority of full-time graduate students (Master’s and Ph.D.’s), accounting for 88 percent of graduate school programs in the United States. Foreign-born scientists and engineers have played a pivotal role in filling the demand for high-level tech expertise in the United States over the last two decades.

Sustaining a welcoming policy toward international students is critical to sustaining America’s position as a technological innovation hotspot. Such a policy would include retaining STEM OPT (Optional Practical Training) and upgraded policies on H-1B visas, per-country limits, and employment-based green cards, as well as making it simpler for international students to work after graduation. Global competition for international students, talented scientists, and engineers are fierce.

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