Stakeholders call for US to extend green card path beyond STEM

First reported by Karin Fischer, the America COMPETES Act of 2022 would have a number of implications for the international education sector if passed.

Along with extending limits on the numbers of international STEM graduates that can gain green cards, it proposed funding alternatives to Confucius Institutes at US universities and the creation of a new visa category for entrepreneurs.

The supplementary fee international STEM PhD students could be required to pay is $1,000, the bill proposes.

NAFSA’s deputy executive director of Public Policy Jill Allen Murray pointed to the reauthorising the Higher Education Act Title VI, exempting international STEM PhD graduates from the green card cap, and creating new visa categories for entrepreneurs as pleasing features as positive provisions the Act contains for international education.

“The US is in desperate need of immigration reform and with the Build Back Better bill stalled, this could be a valuable vehicle for achieving some measure of success,” Murray noted.

“However, much remains to be seen.

“The America COMPETES Act must be reconciled with the US Innovation and Competition Act passed by the Senate last year, and the two bills differ in significant ways. And neither bill includes language to expand dual intent for F-1 international students, which is a key policy for recruiting and retaining international students,” she explained.

“There is broad, bipartisan support for ‘stapling a green card’ to the diploma of international students”

“We are also concerned about the ramifications of providing only STEM international students a path to a green card, as NAFSA believes strongly in the value of non-STEM majors to the US as well.”

However, the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration said the green card provisions for STEM PhD graduates included in the Act is the kind of provision that is part of its legislative recommendations and advocacy for welcoming international students.

The organisation’s recent statement reflecting on how the Biden administration has done in its first year suggested that the State Department has implemented a number of vital changes that make it easier for US institutions to welcome international students.

Additionally, it said the Biden administration has defused the threat of pending regulations proposed by the Trump administration that would have deterred prospective international students.

Positive developments in the year leading up to January 2022 included National Interest Exception qualifications for international students, streamlining visa processes and prioritising students for interviews and changes to “duration of status”.

The administration has been enacting policies that “would grow the US economy, create jobs, and strengthen national security”, the organisation noted, suggesting that the green card proposal is the latest in a range of helpful policies.

The Biden-Harris administration also recently a raft of policies seeking to attract international STEM students and researchers, including widening the fields of study included in the STEM Option Practical Training program.

“We believe that this should include more than STEM PhDs”

“It is a win-win – for students, both international and domestic students, and higher education institutions, and for local economies and the country,” executive director, Miriam Feldblum, told The PIE.

“There is broad, bipartisan support for ‘stapling a green card’ to the diploma of international students graduating from US colleges and universities,” she said, adding that a 2020 poll showed majority support for “laws and policies that attract and retain international students and scholars to the US”.

However, Feldblum too noted that the green card path should go beyond STEM graduates.

“Our legislative recommendations call for changes that enable a direct path to green cards for international student alumni, eliminate the green card backlogs, and prevent future backlogs,” she said.

“We believe that this should include more than STEM PhDs – with priority given to those with PhDs, master’s, bachelors and associates degrees from US higher education institutions, and represent the wide range of fields of study needed in our economy,” she said.

Executive director of the American International Recruitment Council, Brian Whalen, said that “for too long the US has approached international education policies in piecemeal fashion”, and that the Act “tries to take a broader view and a more inclusive approach by proposing to support the international student educational pathway in a more integrated way”.

The comprehensive legislation “will help to retain doctoral STEM graduates who have studied and trained at US universities, as well as offer opportunities for those who have earned equivalent STEM degrees from foreign institutions”, he noted.

“This is a strong commitment to attracting and retaining the top people globally to advance the STEM fields in the US and the innovation and excellence that shapes so many fields of endeavour. Also, significant funding for Community Colleges will assist these institutions to continue to play a critical role in educating and training international students and professionals.”

However, the Act’s “major shortcoming is that it does not address many of the international student entry and transition points that need to be valued and supported for the US to truly be leading destination in the world for international students”, he suggested.

Entry points for international students, spanning K-12 schools, high schools, community colleges, undergraduate and graduate institutions of higher education, vocational and business training programs, intensive English and pathway language programs, short-term study abroad programs, and volunteer, work and cultural programs, need to be bolstered, he continued.

It is a key theme of AIRC’s upcoming two-day Educational Avenues for International Students symposium in April.

“We need to bolster these various entry points through which international students commence their educational avenues in the United States and do a better job of promoting them,” Whalen said.

“Likewise, the US needs to support the development and promotion of successful models for how international students transition between educational avenues. Currently, there are still too many roadblocks that adversely impact international student transitions between educational experiences.”

The bill would also require US research and development award-grantees to certify they are not a “party to a malign foreign talent recruitment program from a foreign country of concern”, while institutions would be required to ensure no research team members participate in the programs.

Contracts or foreign grants of $100,000 or more in one year would have to be disclosed to the government, extending to those that are worth $250,000 over three years.

A vote on the bill is expected this week.

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