International Students to U.S. Face Delays, Denials

International students are an economic boon to the U.S. not only due to their tuition payments and spending during their studies, but also because they disproportionately make up our future potential workforce, in STEM fields as outlined in this previous post.

Yet the administration is delaying and denying issuance of F-1 student visas and of work permits for foreign students, damaging the U.S.’s talent pool and competitiveness.

State Department data shows that in FY 2018,  389,579 student visas were issued, a 22% decline from the 502, 214 visas issued in FY 2016.  Disproportionately affected were students from China and India, who experienced a 33%  and 31% decrease in student visa issuance, respectively, from FY 2016 to FY 2018.

Moreover, F-1 students are allowed to engage in Optional Practical Training, or OPT, in order to gain experience in their fields, benefiting them and the employers who hire them, alike.  International students who attain bachelors or post-graduate degrees in STEM fields can do post-curricular OPT for up to three years.   But as the New York Times recently reported, delays by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in processing students’ OPT work permit requests are causing many to lose positions that have been offered to them, while upending the employers who were counting on the OPT students to join their workforce.

Together with increases in requests for evidence, and delays and denials of student visas,  these developments are impacting colleges’ and universities’ ability to recruit and enroll international students.  As 29 presidents and chancellors of higher education institutions in New Jersey stated in a letter to their Congressional delegation,

Some of our schools have experienced decreases in foreign student enrollment and all of our schools have encountered an increasingly log-jammed immigration system that is impacting our ability to recruit, retain, and bring to our campuses foreign talent.

Simply put, as it becomes more difficult for foreign students and academics to study and work in the United States, many of them are turning to other options, weakening not just our individual institutions, but American higher education as a whole, and, by extension, our country’s global competitiveness.

This is another example of the continued disconnect between the needs of the U.S. economy and the adminstration’s management of U.S. immigration laws, belying the administration’s stated commitment to legal immigration even when the unemployment is  3.6%, and employers are struggling to find the talent they need.