Thursday, September 04, 2014

A thought on foreign students in the USA

There were 819,644 foreign students in the United States last year. As the graph from The Economist shows, many were here on F1 visas, which are specific for foreign students.
Foreign students contribute over $30 billion to the American economy, according to a new report from the Brookings Institution, a think-tank. But few are invited to stay past their studies. The number of H-1B visas, which are given to skilled foreign workers, has barely budged over the past decade (see chart).
There are all sorts of dualities here:

  • The institutions of higher education are making money, as are the towns in which they are located, but the foreign students are taking American technology back to their home countries when they complete their studies here. They then take jobs abroad, either by themselves competing with Americans for work, or by starting or managing businesses that compete with American ones.
  • The U.S. colleges and universities are competing with institutions in the students home countries for the best students. The $30 billion a year, not to mention the rich infusion of brains and energy from these students, would mean a lot to higher education at home.
  • We don't want to poach scarce, much needed skills from other countries, but we need all the people we can get to create jobs and build the economy of this country.
  • People have a right to try to find the place where they can use their minds, their training and their energy to best effect, giving them a chance to earn well, lead a comfortable life, and care for their families well. There are as many gifted people pushed here from counties that don't give them opportunities as there are people pulled here from productive roles in their home countries.
I do think we need more H-1B visas, although many would go to people who want to immigrate to this country even though they did not go to school here.

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