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In this issue, study-abroad groups are warned that travel advisories could change often, the Senate fast-tracks a bill scrutinizing universities’ foreign ties, and new research quantifies colleges’ role in attracting global talent.
Gateways for Innovation
Colleges are an increasingly critical channel for talented immigrants to the United States, a new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows.
The authors, researchers at Harvard and Yale, find that one in five entrepreneurs who start venture-backed companies in the U.S. are immigrants — and of that group, more than three-quarters came to America for college.
Over the past decade — the study looks at trends dating back to 1990 — a greater proportion of founders have come to the U.S. not just for graduate education but to earn undergraduate degrees. Of the study’s sample, 42 percent of immigrant founders came for undergraduate study and 37 percent for graduate programs. Just 22 percent of immigrant entrepreneurs came to the U.S. for work rather than education, the researchers found.
The new research underscores American colleges’ key role as a gateway for global talent, attracting and educating top students.
“Our results highlight the dominant role that the U.S. higher-educational system plays in bringing immigrants that start high-growth potential firms to the United States,” the authors write.
Richard Florida, the University of Toronto professor who studies how educated and creative workers drive economic growth, calls universities the “new Ellis Islands for immigrant entrepreneurs.” Higher education is an important advantage for the U.S., he argued in a Twitter thread on the paper’s findings:
Foreign-born, U.S.-educated start-up founders are more likely to have advanced degrees than their American counterparts and are more likely to have studied a STEM field, the NBER study shows. In addition, they are more likely to start technology-driven companies rather than ones focused on consumer services or business and finance.
The researchers also looked at the footprint of the economic spillover of enrolling international students. There is a “geographically localized economic benefit stemming from the presence of universities that can import top talent from abroad,” they found, with 40 percent of immigrant founders starting their companies in the same state where they attended college. While this “stickiness” is especially true in high-tech hubs like Boston and the Bay Area, it’s common across the country, according to the research.
The findings have policy implications. Government policies that limit the flow of international students or restrict their ability to stay in the U.S., the authors say, could cut off “an important source of innovative and entrepreneurial talent and ideas that contributed to the U.S. economy.”
Meanwhile, another study looks at the potential fall-out for international education from a rule change that would shift away from a H-1B lottery to a system that would award skilled-worker visas based on salary.
The new process, approved in the final days of the Trump administration, could disadvantage recent international graduates who typically earn less than more-experienced workers, according to the National Foundation for American Policy. The think tank examined recent filings for H-1B petitions by international students obtained from an immigration law firm. Its analysis showed that just 39 percent of the applicants would have been approved if the new regulation had been in effect. Put another way, international students were 54 percent more likely to get an H-1B petition under the lottery than a salary-based system.
That’s because nine in 10 recent graduates in the four years of cases examined fell into the two lowest (of four) salary levels. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s own analysis suggest that no applications at Level 1, the lowest salary level, would be approved under the new rule and only about half of petitions would be OK’d for workers at Level 2.
Making it harder for new graduates to stay and work in the U.S. could discourage them from coming to study here in the first place, NFAP argues.
The Biden administration has delayed the implementation date as it reviews the rule. A coalition of business and education groups have sued to block it.
Bonus reading: This Brookings paper proposes new ways to support international entrepreneurs — and international students who are would-be entrepreneurs — including clarifying regulations for practical training programs to explicitly permit entrepreneurial activity.
Senate Considers Competitiveness Bill
This week could be decisive as the Senate considers sweeping legislation to counter Chinese competitiveness. While universities support the broad goal of the package, which invests in American research, they have been alarmed by several provisions in the measure, which greatly expand government oversight of higher ed’s international research collaborations and other foreign partnerships.
They may now be able to breathe a little easier: Axios reports that the Senate has backed down from a plan to subject certain foreign contracts, gifts, and other funding to U.S. research universities to approval by an interagency government panel that reviews international business deals for national-security concerns. Some senators believe the panel, which is known as CFIUS, doesn’t have the expertise or capacity to review potentially tens of thousands of foreign gifts and contracts to universites. And college leaders worried that the provision could give the government the ability to slow down or even kill international academic partnerships.
Still, higher-ed officials I spoke to over the weekend remained on guard. The senator who authored the CFIUS measure, James Risch of Idaho, is said to be trying to restore the language to the final bill. Risch has said the Chinese government exercises “tremendous amounts of influence” over U.S. universities through its funding.
Nor is the CFIUS provision the only problematic part of the bill in colleges’ eyes. The legislation would also mandate universities to maintain searchable databases for every dollar received by individual researchers, lower the threshold for reporting foreign gifts and contracts to the federal government from $250,000 to $50,000, and add new reporting requirements to the National Science Foundation. Higher-ed officials told me they worry that compliance could be burdensome and that the new rules could discourage international engagement.
The legislation would also prohibit researchers who receive federal grants from participating in foreign talent recruitment programs. China’s Thousand Talents plan has been the center of government investigations.
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Latest on Travel Advisories
Higher-ed groups met with State Department officials over a revised travel advisory system that more heavily weighs Covid-related health guidance. The advisories, which colleges and program providers use in study-abroad risk assessment, designated much of the world as “level 4: do not travel” for American travelers.
The associations had requested the meeting, which Melissa Torres, executive director of the Forum on Education Abroad, told me was productive. The State Department said it would work with higher ed to help better educate American students and families about gauging risk in overseas study.
Government officials also told the group that they were evaluating the Covid situation on a weekly basis and updating their advisories accordingly — roughly 20 countries have had their risk assessments revised back to level 3 just in the month since the new system was announced. Previously, advisories typically remained constant for six months or more, Torres said.
Given the fluidity of the pandemic, she said she understood the need for continuous review, but the changing risk levels make it difficult for colleges and programs to plan for the coming semester or year. And while larger institutions may use the State Department designations as part of sophisticated risk assessment, some institutional or insurer policies prohibit travel to level 4 countries, no matter the reason. Less-resourced colleges and providers may not have the ability to review countries on a case-by-case basis, which was the officials’ suggestion, Torres told me:
“I personally worry greatly about the impact on students and families who might simply go to the State Department’s website and see so many ‘Level 4: Do Not Travel’ labels that they walk away with the impression that the world is a big, scary place and they’d better never venture outside the U.S. I know this is not the State Department’s intention.”
As education-abroad programs resume, I want to hear how your institution is dealing with the State Department advisories and other post-pandemic challenges. Email me with your perspectives as well as any feedback and story ideas.
Around the Globe
President Biden signed legislation to combat hate crimes targeting Asians and Pacific Islanders.
Colleges have until Friday to join an amicus brief in support of Optional Practical Training in an appeal of a case contesting the legality of the work program for recent international graduates.
States and public colleges in California and Massachusetts have dropped lawsuits challenging a Education Department rule that prevented international and undocumented students from receiving pandemic aid after the Biden administration made that policy change.
One in three agents advising students seeking to study in the U.S. recommends that applicants apply to colleges in another country to hedge their bets, according to a Navitas survey.
Twenty-six U.S. colleges have received State Department grants to build and strengthen capacity in study-abroad programs and to expand diversity in participation.
All seven of Gaza’s universities have been closed amid deadly fighting with Israel, and a building at Al-Quds University was severely damaged after Israeli forces fired tear gas and smoke bombs. A ceasefire has been called.
Student groups at Bates College criticized the college’s decision to ask police to investigate anti-Israel graffiti on campus.
An Oxford University college will not remove a statue of colonialist Cecil Rhodes that has been the target of anti-racism protests.
McGill University’s board of governors voted down a motion on racial justice, angering students who have been pressing the Canadian university to more decisively address race on campus.
Are American studies at Chinese universities too weak?
A quick note to say that latitude(s) will take a weeklong publishing break. Now that everyone’s fully vaccinated, I’m packing up the car and heading to Colorado to see family. I’ll make an exception if big news breaks; otherwise, follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn for updates. I’ll be back in your in-boxes on June 7.
See you soon —Karin