International students in the U.S. lack clear paths to work

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In Canada and Australia, which make it easy to move from study to work, two-thirds of immigrants are college graduates. It’s the opposite in the U.S.

‘Telegraph There’s New Management’

No other country is home to as many college-educated immigrants as the United States — as of 2015, the U.S. had some 14.7 million immigrants ages 25 and older with a postsecondary diploma or college degree. That’s more than three times as many as the second-ranked country, Canada.

But Canada and other advanced economies dwarf the U.S. when it comes to the share of immigrants who are highly educated. About two-thirds of the immigrants to Canada and Australia have college degrees, according to a Pew Research Center analysis, while nearly half of those immigrating to Britain do. By contrast, just a third of working-age immigrants to America graduated from college, whether in the U.S. or elsewhere.

When it comes to international-student recruitment, one of Canada and Australia’s biggest selling points is the ease of the pathway from study to work. This is by design: Australia and Canada have skills-based immigration systems, while America’s gives preference to family ties.

President Biden wouldn’t change that, but he would make it easier for a subset of international students, those who earn PhDs in STEM fields, to get green cards. In the Chronicle of Higher Education, I wrote about the Biden plan and why some hope it could help international recruiting overall by sending a new, more-welcoming message to prospective students.

Here’s some more reporting from my notebook that didn’t make it in the article:

When I spoke with Miriam Feldblum of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, she characterized the work ahead of the Biden administration as falling into “three buckets”: undoing “harmful measures” put in place by the Trump administration, fixing longstanding problems in the immigration and visa systems, and big-sky proactive change.

The green-card measure is a second-bucket effort, a tweak to bring the system more in line with present-day needs, she said. “It’s about getting the gears working well again,” she told me.

I also interviewed Michael Roach, a Cornell University professor who is out with a timely paper looking at the costs and complexities of the current system. Roach and his co-author, John Skrentny of the University of California at San Diego, found that international graduates of American STEM doctoral programs often have to “buy time” until they can gain permanent residency, using Optional Practical Training and H1-B skilled worker visas to stay in the U.S. and work. Nearly eight in 10 STEM doctorates from India and two-thirds of those from China are on H1-Bs as they wait for green cards.

The lack of a clear pathway creates uncertainty for foreign graduates, Roach and Skrentny found, but it also disadvantages startup companies who may find it too costly or burdensome to sponsor H1-Bs. “This is a highly competitive labor market,” Roach said of science and technology grads.

Finally, Rachel Banks and Heather Stewart of NAFSA made the point that President Biden doesn’t just have legislative fixes at his disposal — there are also administrative and policy changes he can make to aid international students. These include speeding up the processing of visas and OPT work authorizations, not singling out international students for special scrutiny at ports of entry, and giving consular officials more flexibility in interpreting international students’ “intent” in their visa applications so that they are not denied visas because they might want to stay in the U.S. and work. (NAFSA and 47 other higher-ed associations sounded a similar message in a letter sent last week to the new Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken.)

Banks, senior director of public policy and legislative strategy at NAFSA, also referenced an idea floated by Samantha Power, a Harvard professor who is Biden’s nominee to run USAID: that the new president should give a major speech emphasizing his commitment to international students. (Here’s my take on Power’s proposal from November.) It’s important, Banks said, to “telegraph that there’s new management.”

I welcome your questions, comments, and story ideas. Send ’em my way at latitudesnews@gmail.com.

College Settles Visa-Fraud Case

A California university will pay $1.17 million to settle claims that it misled the U.S. government by falsely certifying that foreign nationals qualified for student visas.

International Technological University is alleged to have submitted false forms on behalf of student-visa applicants, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General, which says it identified hundreds of ITU students who were not attending classes as required by student-visa regulations. The agreement also settles claims brought by a whistleblower.

The OIG announcement set off immediate bells for me — ITU was one of several visa mills my colleagues Tom Barlett, Josh Keller, and I uncovered in a 2011 Chronicle investigation. We found that these sham universities marketed themselves as offering the opportunity to work in the United States while on a student visa, making millions while exploiting loopholes in federal regulations. In ITU’s case, students lived and worked full time in New York, Ohio, and other states, flying back to California when needed and earning academic credit for their jobs.

Our monthslong investigation was eye-opening — you can read more here.

New OPT Office Closed

Here today, gone tomorrow. That’s the fate of the new OPT Compliance Unit. Established in the final days of the Trump administration to ensure that international students and employers taking part in the popular work program abide by government rules, it was disbanded within the first week of the Biden administration.

In a broadcast message, Homeland Security officials said the creation of a new OPT office was “not necessary” because much of the oversight the new office would have carried out is already being done.

Meanwhile, higher-ed groups have written to DHS, warning that delays in OPT processing could cause international students to miss employment start dates and risk falling out of valid visa status. They asked that the government give greater flexibility to OPT applicants, including granting conditional approval for delayed applications, expanding the filing window, and making sure that visa records or STEM OPT requests aren’t improperly canceled or terminated.

Around the Globe

The Institute of International Education has named a former deputy mayor of Chicago as the new chairman of its board of trustees.

House Republicans have asked the University of Pennsylvania to turn over records related to a center started there by President Biden and funding from China.

Biden’s nominee for UN ambassador has been criticized for a speech she gave at a Confucius Institute at Savannah State University

It’s time to end the U.S. government’s “China initiative,” which has targeted researchers with China ties for investigation, writes a law professor and China scholar.

New Zealand universities are preparing to reopen but expect half the number of international students to attend. Australia’s education minister, however, says he doesn’t know when overseas students will be able to return.

The National University of Singapore press canceled plans to publish a book critical of the Thai monarchy, sparking calls for a boycott.

New amendments to Russia’s education law could chill international collaboration and give the government far greater control and oversight over the country’s universities.

Pakistan’s public universities face a financial crisis after years of insufficient government support.

Morocco plans to open 21 new universities by 2023.

A change in visa rules to allow students to sponsor their families could increase the number of international students in the United Arab Emirates.

Officials in Venezuela want to limit the number of majors offered by private universities to a list of pre-approved career-related courses of study.

Reporter Lindsay Ellis and I looked at how American universities’ past decisions on finances, enrollment, athletics, and more constrained their ability to respond to the pandemic. Don’t worry, there’s an international angle.

Want news and updates on global higher ed? Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn.

And finally…

Like many students during Covid, Aaron Ansuini, a student at Montreal’s Concordia College, has been taking courses online. He found his art history class especially lively and engaging. But when he went to email his new favorite teacher a follow-up question, Ansuini was in for a shock: His professor was dead.

François-Marie Gagnon had recorded the videos for the course, on Canadian art, before his death in March 2019. Grading and administration for the course were handled by a visiting instructor. Friends, the instructor didn’t know the professor was dead, either.

’Til next week — Karin

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