At a recent event, one of my former high school classmates who today is a distinguished Stanford University professor asked me whether there was much immigration legal work in Pittsburgh. He then commented that 80 percent of his graduate students were foreign nationals.
Of course, the same likely could be said for Carnegie Mellon or the University of Pittsburgh because a majority of graduate students in the nation’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields are foreign nationals.
Some surprising hard statistics drive home this point. A 2017 study reports that 81 percent of full-time graduate students in electrical and petroleum engineering at U.S. universities are international students, and 79 percent in computer science are foreign nationals. The Pew Research Center noted that the federal Optional Training Program or OPT has seen a 400 percent increase in foreign students graduating and working in STEM fields from 2008 to 2016.
Immigrants from all over the world are being educated at American institutions of higher education, and many are seeking or being sought after to stay and apply their knowledge and talent to the United States workforce.
Education, in many ways, is a U.S. export with a positive balance of trade. Many foreign students pay full tuition, others make academic, scientific, economic and entrepreneurial contributions to this country’s body of work, knowledge and innovations. They are often top students or they wouldn’t have made it here. Their numbers are declining because current immigration policy makes a foreign student’s ability to stay in the U.S., regardless of their accomplishments or an employer’s need for their service, less secure.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) claims to be “cracking down” on employment-based immigration. For example, the very popular H-1B visa – which provides for foreign workers to be temporarily employed in specialty occupations – is plagued with requests for evidence to prove in the extreme that the position sought to be filled requires at least a bachelor’s level education and that the immigrant has that education. Recently, USCIS cracked down on a post-doctoral researcher whose visa was sought by a local university. USCIS demanded proof that a position that requires a doctoral degree is one that also requires a bachelor’s degree. In another case, USCIS required a translation of the immigrant’s diploma into English because the esteemed University of Pennsylvania, from which he earned his degree, issues its diplomas in Latin.
By Robert Whitehill for JDSUPRA
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