The Case for Rethinking Immigration Restrictions: Fewer International Students

The United States has long been a destination for foreign nationals seeking to improve their quality of life. Drawn by competitive salaries and corporations boasting revenues in the billions, these aspiring immigrants seek out American employment options in droves. After building rapport with their employers, many initiate the green card process, in the hope of one day establishing permanent roots in this country.

Flourishing industries are far from the only appeal of the United States. The country is also known for its prestigious universities and academic programs. However, the change in administration in 2016 beckoned an age of harsher immigration policies. Since his election, President Trump has taken numerous measures to restrict immigration, in the supposed interest of national security, preserving the overall integrity of the immigration system, and protecting U.S. workers.

As one would expect, heightened restrictions on immigration have reduced the number of international students enrolled in graduate-level programs in the U.S. These restrictions have had a pronounced effect on enrollment in STEM programs. In the 2016-2017 academic year, the number of Indian students enrolled in graduate-level Computer Science programs was 47,430. This figure fell to 36,350 in the 2018-2019 academic year, indicating a 23 percent decline in enrollment. A similar decrease in enrollment occurred in graduate-level engineering programs, from 39,470 students enrolled in the 2016-2017 academic year, to only 28,600 students enrolled in the 2018-2019 academic year.

Though U.S. businesses can still sponsor IT workers via the H1B work visa program, the importance of international students cannot be understated. Encouraging international students to study in the U.S. increases the likelihood that they will seek U.S. employment, oftentimes filling shortages in STEM fields. Likewise, international students introduce unique ideas and perspectives inspired by their experiences in their home countries. International students hired to U.S. businesses may be able to identify gaps in the U.S. market that a U.S.-born employee would overlook.

If the U.S. refuses to acknowledge the value of international students, other countries will. An analysis by the National Foundation for American Policy has revealed that “many Indian students are choosing Canada over the United States as the place to study and make their careers.” From 2016 to 2018, the number of Indian international students in Canada increased by 127 percent. To encourage this shift, Canada’s designated learning universities have increased the accessibility of their programs in the COVID-19 pandemic by offering online courses. Furthermore, students who received a permit to study in Canada before March 18, 2020, may still travel to the country, though they must pass an airline health check and self-quarantine for fourteen days. [See Indian Tech Graduate Students Plummeted in U.S. Before Covid-19 by Stuart Anderson, ]

It goes without saying that a country suffering the consequences of resisting diversity should not continue to do so. The decrease in international students enrolled in graduate-level programs does not bode well for universities, employers, or the nation as a whole.


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