The need to alter immigration laws to allow foreign students with degrees in Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) to have resident status has gained a momentum in recent years. One of the overriding reasons for such a move is founded on the fact that after graduation, most of these foreign students go back to their home countries; therefore denying America the much needed innovation that is necessary for the job creation. By joining the movement to have immigration laws changed to accommodate foreign students, the president of California State University, East Bay will be helping to bring attention to the importance of retaining foreign students after graduation. This is founded on the following reasons: sending graduates back to their countries promotes reverse brain drain; therefore retaining them will limit their return, skilled immigrants with STEM degrees contribute to job creations, more than half of advanced degrees in STEM course are awarded to foreign students, and American businesses require employees with advanced STEM degrees.
Limits Reverse Brain Drain
By failing to institute appropriate immigrant legislations that allow foreigners to acquire resident status, America will be promoting reverse brain drain. This is a situation where a student acquires the necessary training at American world class universities and then migrates back to the home country, which is not beneficial to America as the knowledge that it conferred will benefit another country. The current laws enhance reverse brain drain because it does not cater for the needs of the graduates who feel that their home countries offer better opportunities than the United States, with immigration regulations being the main concern. Considering that the global market for skilled employees is competitive, America will be disadvantaged because these students will go back to their countries, which are competitors of America in terms of manufacturing and trade (Wasem, 2012). This is founded on 2011 statistics showing that a majority of Chinese, Indian and European students reported having challenges obtaining work visa (Moffet, 2013). These countries and especially China are growing economies that are competitors in the global world. In other words, failing to retain these skilled students is equivalent to supporting American competitors, which will tilt the balance of power in innovation to their advantage. America can in longer afford to loose its skilled workers if it is to compete in the global economy that is knowledge-based and driven by innovation. Universities and colleges will be acting as immigration gatekeepers if education qualification is used as one of the parameters of acquiring resident status. Considering that leading American companies such as Apple are shifting their operations to countries such as China because of cheap and competitive labor, America needs to reform its immigration policies to enhance its global competition for talent.
Foreigners with STEM Degrees Contribute to Job Creation and Boost Economy
There has been a notion among many policy makers and ordinary Americans that immigrants take jobs from Americans. This may be true for occupations that are unskilled or require limited skills, but for skilled employees they contribute to a job creation. Skilled immigrants can revive a slow economy and complement the skills of American employees (OECD, 2012), and there is no other appropriate group other than foreign student with STEM degrees from American universities.
This view is supported by a research study conducted by the American Enterprise Institute that concluded that immigration reform is the most viable option of reinvigorating the American economy. As the economy becomes knowledge-based, innovation will be the key driver of the economy and in most instances, it is from STEM graduates. Considering that three quarters of patents that were generated by leading American universities in 2011 included an immigrant inventor, retaining these innovators in America after graduation will boost the American economy through job creation. Other statistics show that by 2018 the country will be facing a shortage of employees in the STEM professions; therefore, to avert such a catastrophe there is a need to engage skilled foreigners to ensure that they contribute to job creation through innovative patents (Wasem, 2012).
Additionally, educated immigrants pay more taxes than the benefits they collect. According to the same study, a skilled immigrant paid approximately $ 22,500000 in 2009 in the form of federal, state and payroll taxes. When compared to the benefits that their families received in the form of welfare, Medicaid and employment benefits, this is more beneficial to the economy because these benefits amount to only a tenth of the taxes paid (OECD, 2012). The high taxes paid by skilled professionals help in offsetting the cost of immigration at the bottom end of education and wage scale who may receive more in benefits than they pay in terms of taxation. This is evidence against the skewed mythology that immigration is bad for the economy.
Retaining Them will Meet the Needs of American Businesses
Following complaints by leading American businesses that they cannot source sufficient employees with STEM degrees, retaining qualified immigrants will solve the issue. Leading businesses magnates such as former New York mayor Michel Bloomberg and media magnate Rupert Murdoch have supported legislation that will offer skilled residents resident statuses in order to provide sufficient and skilled labor to American businesses (Moffet, 2013). Currently, information technology businesses are the leading creators of employments and industries that require skilled personnel and by retaining skilled immigrants, America will be encouraging theses businesses to operate in the country instead of going to foreign countries.
More than Half of STEM Degrees are Awarded to Foreigners
Some sub categories of STEM course such as computer engineering degrees are awarded to foreign students, which makes it necessary to retain these students after graduation. According to the statistics by the National Science Foundation (NSF), 58 % of electrical engineering degrees awarded in 2009 went to temporary residents (Moffet, 2013). Other courses that have high representation of temporary residents include: industrial, chemical, computer and materials engineering. There are more temporary residents awarded doctoral degrees, and considering that this group is necessary in research that leads to innovation, they should be retained.
Despite the agitation to reform immigration laws to accommodate foreign students after graduation, there are counter arguments that make the move unnecessary. First, creating visa programs to cater for skilled foreigners may not help in America labor market due to softness of certain STEM occupations. There are high unemployment rates for mathematical and computer related occupations. Secondly, the degrees awarded to foreign nationals affect a small proportion of STEM courses, but for professions such as aviation and medical sciences, Americans are still dominant. Lastly, STEM shortages may be exaggerated because most employers utilized skilled visa provisions to employ foreign workers at low market rates.
The President of California State University, East Bay should engage in bringing attention to how immigration laws affect the ability of universities to attract, educate and retain the world’s leading minds. Foreign students are more beneficial to the country when retained after graduation instead of sending them back to their countries. America will stand to lose more by failing to retain this group of students because its competitors in the global economy will take advantage of the talent. Going forward, this problem can be solved by:
- Creating a special visa category that offers resident status to entrepreneurs who have STEM degrees from American colleges.
- Excusing immigrants with advanced STEM degrees from H-1B quota.