It’s like “tying one hand behind our back”

Advocates for international and undocumented students sought to make the case for immigration reform that would allow them to stay in the United States at a U.S. Senate hearing on Tuesday — and they may have found a receptive audience among lawmakers from both parties.

“In terms of America’s competitiveness, this is crazy. It’s tying one hand behind our back,” Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, said of policies that make it difficult for international students to work in America after graduation.

Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, called a higher-ed-backed proposal to make more green cards available to graduates with advanced science and technology degrees “pretty reasonable.”

And Sen. Richard J. Durbin, the Senate’s second-ranking Democrat and a longtime sponsor of legislation to give legal status to undocumented young people, said immigration reform should be Congress’s next priority.

Yet despite the largely warm welcome by the Senate Judiciary panel’s subcommittee on immigration, there were also reminders of why it can be difficult to enact legislative fixes to the current immigration system. Several senators questioned whether high-skilled immigrants — the subject of the hearing — should be favored over less-educated workers who want to come to the United States. One of the witnesses was Dalia Larios, a medical resident who said she was the first recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program to be accepted to Harvard Medical School. Cornyn asked her which policy area, for international or undocumented students, was more critical to to tackle. “I don’t consider any immigrant more deserving,” Larios said diplomatically.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee, sought to connect international-student policy to an issue she has warned repeatedly about, the potential risk of theft of intellectual property by foreign governments, and asked if international academic exchange might make American colleges more vulnerable. (The subcommittee’s chairman, Sen. Alex Padilla of California, responded that the “vast majority” of international students pose no threat, citing a recent letter by a bipartisan group of former national security officials who said the U.S. government needs to do more to hold onto talented international graduates of its colleges.)

Another witness, Bernard A. Burrola, vice president for international, community, and economic engagement at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, tried to impress a need for urgency upon the senators. He noted that even before the pandemic, the United States had been losing international enrollments as other countries — including Australia, Britain, and Canada — posted gains. America’s competitors have streamlined visa processes, promote their countries as study destinations, and have clear pathways for graduates to gain work permits, he said. “Our losses are others’ gains.”

The United States can ill afford to lose international talent, especially with recent declines in domestic enrollments, Burrola said.

He said Congress should approve the green-card exemption for STEM grad students, which is included in broader competitiveness legislation currently being negotiated by members of the House and Senate. “An advanced degree in STEM should be a ticket to a green card,” he said, “giving certainty to students and employers and fostering a greater environment for innovation.”

Burrola also called on lawmakers to ease the visa process and to permit “dual intent,” that is, allowing student-visa applicants to express interest in both studying and working in the United States. Because a student visa is a nonimmigrant visa, expressing interest in staying in the United States after graduation to work is currently grounds for consular officials to deny an application.

Larios, an Arizona State University graduate who came to the United States at age 10, put a face on the issues facing undocumented students. The DACA program, now a decade old, gave her and other young people brought to the United States as children protection from deportation and the ability to study here, but unless Congress enacts a long-term fix, her future remains uncertain, she told the senators.

The Trump administration tried to limit the program, and repeated court challenges have contested its legality.

“For me, the thought of deportation is exceptionally painful to bear,” said Larios, whose siblings are American citizens and whose parents have been able to gain legal status in the United States. “Most days, I don’t allow myself to think about it; it would mean losing everything and everyone I know.”

The career challenge for international students

For The Chronicle this week, I dug into the issue of international students and their career aspirations. The ability to gain work experience in addition to their degree is an important driver in international students’ decision to study in the United States. Yet these students are not always seeing their investment pay off — just half of foreign students in a recent survey said that, from a career perspective, the value of an American degree justifies the cost.

For colleges looking for a competitive edge in a heated global market, this could be a missed opportunity — or a serious vulnerability. Here’s some of what I found:

  • Visa restrictions can hamper international students from gaining the same work and internship experience as their American classmates. Work off campus must be related to their studies, limiting their options. And some employers may balk at hiring international students.
  • There are often cultural gaps in the job search and hiring process between the United States and international students’ home countries. For example, one researcher who studies students from China told me they often turn to the career office when they encounter a specific problem. But on American campuses, the emphasis is often on exploring career paths.
  • Many colleges have been slow to zero in on the specific career needs of international students, but that may be changing — a growing number are hiring advisers focused on guiding international students. One resource: the National Career Development Association’s International Student Services Committee.

For more on this issue, check out my feature.

White House issues guidance on academic collaboration with Russia

U.S. government agencies must “wind down” academic and research partnerships with universities and other institutions affiliated with the Russian government in response to the invasion of Ukraine.

The White House over the weekend issued guidance on scientific and technological cooperation with Russia. Existing projects may be concluded but new ones may not be started, it said. Federal-government departments and agencies should “curtail interaction” with Russian university leaders as well as other academics who have expressed support for the war.

The White House announcement follows efforts by most European governments to restrict scientific exchanges with Russia early in the conflict.

But the guidance stops short of telling American colleges and other nongovernmental research groups to cut ties with Russia, saying they should “make their own determination” about whether to continue academic collaboration with Russia.

Tobin L. Smith, vice president for policy at the Association of American Universities, said the announcement does not represent a policy change for higher-ed institutions because it leaves it to their discretion to decide whether to maintain their Russian partnerships. He noted that most universities that had collaborations with Russia have already withdrawn from them, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s decision to dissolve its relationship with a Russian technological university it helped found.

Still, the guidance sends an important signal about research cooperation with Russia. Is it more evidence of a new wave of academic isolationism?

Around the globe

Legislation would seek to push American colleges to divest from Chinese companies linked to human-rights abuses.

China plans to elevate dozens of academic journals to world-class status to raise the profile and influence of its scientific research.

Shanghai will allow Chinese graduates of top globally ranked universities to qualify for its notoriously hard-to-get residency permits, the latest use of rankings in a bid to attract talent.

A just-released global academic ranking includes universities in Russia, even though the rankings company initially said such institutions would be excluded after the country’s attack on Ukraine.

Russia will expand enrollments in some master’s-degree programs in order to meet skilled-worker shortages.

A new network provides academic opportunities for Ukrainian students and scholars amid war.

Students at the University of Northern Colorado are asking trustees not to cut several foreign-language programs, including French and German.

A parliamentary committee in Canada called for greater transparency of study-permit refusal rates and for more regulation of the international-student recruitment industry.

Three-quarters of Australian academics think research-integrity training should be mandatory, according to a survey by Nature and the Australian Academy of Science.

And finally …

Here’s an eye-popping stat, courtesy of Mikhail Zinshteyn, the higher-ed reporter at Cal Matters: It will cost California $34,000 to replace a nonresident student with a Californian. That’s because international and out-of-state students pay far higher tuition rates than in-state students.

ICYMI, California lawmakers last year imposed caps on nonresident students at three popular University of California campuses — in Berkeley, Los Angeles, and San Diego. In a budget approved on Monday, legislators allocated $31 million to replace 902 international and out-of-state students with Californians.

Thanks for reading. I always welcome your feedback and ideas for future reporting, so drop me a line at karin.fischer@chronicle.com. You can also connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn. If you like this newsletter, please share it with colleagues and friends. They can sign up here.