Proposals from the departments of Labor and Homeland Security – due to go into effect on December 7 – would introduce stricter eligibility criteria H-1B visas for highly skilled workers. The rules will harm US college and university educational missions, their research, faculty and student bodies, as well as their healthcare systems and their reputations, associations across the country have suggested.

The American Council on Education, along with 23 other higher education associations, is supporting legal challenges to the Trump administration rules in the District of Columbia and the Northern District of California courts.

“DOL and DHS did not give those affected an opportunity to share the impact these rules will have”

“Colleges and universities rely on tens of thousands of H-1B visa holders to fill crucial positions for their campus communities: faculty, researchers, physicians, scholars, residents, fellows, and professional staff, in the areas of medicine, science, engineering, and many others,” the ACE said.

“Yet, as has become all too common under the current administration, DOL and DHS did not give those affected an opportunity to share the impact these rules will have — as required by the federal Administrative Procedure Act — or to prepare in any way for the dramatic changes being forced on them overnight.”

Manager of International Recruitment, Marketing, & Admission at Center for International Programs at State University of New York at New Paltz, Amanda Stevens, said limiting the use of H-1B visas will “very likely deter international students from studying in the US, adding to the number of pre-existing deterrents such as the Covid-19 pandemic and threats to OPT opportunities”.

WES report recently found that between June and August, the US was becoming “less desirable” for some international students as a result of a turbulent political and social environment combined with the pandemic.

In the survey of 545 prospective international students carried out in August, some 40% said they were less interested in studying in the US as a result of the social and political environment. In June, 35% of 698 prospective students questioned had indicated the same.

“Some 40% said they were less interested in studying in the US as a result of the social and political environment”

Over the same period (June to August) the percentage citing “no impact” declined from 34% to 27%.

Past research by the organisation has found that US work opportunities are an important factor for many international students when selecting study destinations, WES Research manager Bryce K. Loo said.

Research carried out in 2017 found that 73% of current and former international student respondents in the country found the ability to gain US experience before returning home “very important” in selecting a US institution.

In addition, 44% said they were looking for opportunities to stay in the U.S. long-term or permanently, he highlighted.

“In particular, Indian and other South Asian students are likely to be interested in opportunities to work in the US after graduation,” Loo noted.

“We know that the H-1B visa is one of the predominant ways in which international students transfer from short-term post-graduation work opportunities, notably optional practical training, to working longer-term in the US,” he explained.

“Without knowing the exact outcome of this new rule, tightening rules and reducing opportunities for obtaining an H-1B visa and other work opportunities such as OPT would likely have an impact on the decision-making of many students considering the US.

“Some of these students, particularly Indian students, may look to other countries, such as Canada, that provide more post-graduation work and residency opportunities, including the ability to stay permanently.”

According to education choice platform Studyportals, employment prospects are often a “key consideration” for students.

“For our users, particularly those that study in high-tuition programs, the prospects of employment during and after the study in the destination country are a key consideration, often even the primary goal,” said Studyportals’ marketing analytics consultant, Carmen Neghina.

“The H-1B as well as the OPT program in the US has been fundamental to accommodate this demand – limiting the H-1B facility will certainly have a negative impact on interest and enrolment.

“Also, key competitor destinations UK, Canada, continental Europe are providing more flexibility and options for talent to work post-study – so the competitive position of the US is additionally affected.”

Stevens agreed that “the potential to work in the US after completing their studies is one of the driving factors for students studying here”.

“It helps them to gain valuable experience and real-world knowledge while opening the door to long-term career opportunities,” she noted.

“This proposal would particularly impact students in STEM and Business coming from countries such as India and China, which account for the top two countries of origin for international students studying in the US (according to IIE Open Doors 2019),” Stevens emphasised.

“[The rules] will negatively affect not only international students but also the US economy”

“These new rules will no doubt create additional barriers to the work of all who are in the field of international education, and will negatively affect not only international students but also the US economy.

“Without these skilled workers brought to the US through the H-1B program, our economy will see a decrease in a valuable job-creating stimulus. All of which is connected and stems from the vital importance of international education.”

Silicon Valley companies including Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft have also submitted an Amicus Brief opposing the rule, with Twitter suggesting the rule “will stifle the ability of American companies to hire and retain global talent”.

Last year, the Graduate Management Admission Council warned that the US does not have the high-skilled talent it needs to remain competitive in a global economy.

A hearing for the DC case has been scheduled for November 13, while a similar hearing is expected on November 23 in the California case.

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