February 13, 2017

Cracking Down on Foreign Students Will Hurt U.S. Universities



According to leaked drafts of potential executive orders, President Donald Trump is considering cracking down on foreign students by restricting their ability to work after graduation. The administration believes this change will help American workers compete for jobs.

But in reality, the proposed executive action will hurt U.S. universities, increase the cost of college for native-born Americans, and remove billions of dollars from the American economy.

President Trump’s leaked executive order asks the Department of Homeland Security to propose reforms to the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, which provides work authorization to foreign students after graduation. The proposed changes would offer native-born Americans better work opportunities that are now, according to the administration, going to foreign graduates. This is the latest example of the Trump administration scapegoating immigrants as the cause of economic ills.

Not only does this fly in the face of all available economic research, it defies common sense.

Bringing the brightest individuals to study at some of the world’s best universities, educating and grooming them to succeed, and then forcing them to leave the country does nothing to help our economy or provide jobs for American citizens. Conversely, it forces students to take their talents and ideas to other countries.

The U.S. educates the most foreign students of any country in the world. Last year, more than 1 million foreign students were enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities. These schools recruit international students, equip them with skills and education, and provide a campus community where they integrate quickly into American society.

But after graduation, these students have limited options to stay in America because their visas expire within sixty days. This forces those who want to stay to find a job and secure a visa in less than two months. A select few will win the H-1B lottery to stay and work in the U.S.—but the chances of getting an H-1B are slim. Fearful of losing documentation, many return home.

This is where the OPT program comes in. Instead of educating foreign students and then kicking them out, OPT offers a grace period for students to find opportunities and jobs in America.

International students are offered one year of work eligibility, while science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) students are given a two year extension. Last year about 150,000 students were enrolled in the OPT program.

Both the Bush and Obama administrations expanded the time and number of fields included in the OPT program, in recognition of the economic benefits made by foreign students. But now, President Trump has put this bipartisan program on the chopping block.

Curtailing OPT handicaps American firms as compared to other countries seeking international talent at the university level. Other countries like Australia, Canada, and Switzerland are capitalizing on foreign students by launching programs that fully capture the rewards they bring.

Trump’s immigration policies and hostile rhetoric are pushing away talented international students. This is destructive for two main reasons.

First, foreign students are economic powerhouses.

In 2015-2016 school year, the 1,043,839 international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities contributed $32.8 billion and supported more than 400,000 jobs to the U.S. economy.

Foreign students disproportionately study STEM and business fields, making them uniquely useful in this 21st century economy. They provide a huge flow of the Silicon Valley workforce, and are a driving force in creating new jobs and promoting economic growth in the United States if they are allowed to call America home.

Second, foreign students subsidize the tuition of native-born students, who would suffer from a reduction in international students. Internationals students often pay full tuition and help subsidize native-born students’ education.

Moody’s estimates that foreign students pay ten percent of all paid tuition, but only make up five percent of students. Therefore, schools, American students, workers at universities, and the surrounding communities suffer with less revenue coming in.

Reducing foreign student enrollment will dry up a significant source of revenue for colleges and universities and will make native-born Americans pay more for their education. We hurt native-born students in their pursuit of affordable education by pushing out international students. Undermining the OPT program will have major consequences for American students.

Donald Trump should not restrict the OPT program. These students help American universities grow, aide native-born American job prospects, and support jobs for Americans at all skill levels. Cracking down on the OPT program is economic self-harm pretending to put America first.