Amendment to give more green cards to international grads fails

Proposals to exempt international students and other immigrants with graduate degrees in science and engineering from immigration caps receive bipartisan backing, yet supporters have failed to win approval for such measures in the U.S. Congress.

The latest instance was on Tuesday, when the House Rules Committee rejected on technical grounds an amendment to an annual defense-authorization bill that would have waived green-card limits for people with doctorates in STEM fields. Lawmakers on the House Ways and Means Committee opposed the provision because it would have charged applicants a fee; the objecting legislators said the fee amounted to a new tax that should have been approved first by their committee.

The failure to win inclusion in the National Defense Authorization Act is the most-recent setback for efforts to make it easier for graduates in critical STEM fields to stay in the United States after they earn their degrees.

President Biden has long called for stapling a green card to every STEM graduate degree, and he proposed immigration reform on his first day in office that included the STEM provision, but it has gone nowhere. More recently, legislation to invest in research to help the United States compete with China contained similar language — it would have exempted all graduate students in STEM from the caps, not just Ph.D.s — but negotiations on the bill have stalled. And Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican who favors restrictions on immigration, has said he would try to block the STEM exemption and other immigration-related provisions in particular.

Yet there is popular support for retaining more graduates in high-demand science and technological fields. A bipartisan group of former national-security officials wrote to Congress in May to urge passage of the competition bill and specifically the STEM exemption. More than half of respondents in a 2021 survey by the American Council on Education said they favored the STEM proposal, and 60 percent said international graduates should be allowed to stay in the United States and work after graduation if they followed proper legal channels.

Higher-education groups have advocated for such measures because they fear that roadblocks to staying in the United States could make it increasingly difficult to attract international students in the first place. American colleges are heavily dependent on foreign talent, especially in STEM fields — nearly 60 percent of doctoral recipients in engineering and mathematics and computer science are on student visas, federal data show.

On Tuesday members of the Rules Committee also voted down an amendment that would have prohibited colleges with ties to the Chinese Communist Party, or with entities linked to the party, from getting U.S. Department of Homeland Security grants. Legislators have used a past defense-authorization bill to make a similar policy change, preventing colleges with Confucius Institutes — language and cultural centers supported by the Chinese government — from receiving Defense Department funds. More than 100 institutes have closed in recent years, leaving fewer than 20 on American campuses.

However, several other amendments related to international education are among the 650 that could be considered when the defense bill is voted on by the full U.S. House of Representatives: One would allow for the expedited immigration of scientists and other technical experts to promote innovation and national security, and another would establish a State Department program for the study of Mandarin, Uyghur, Tibetan, Cantonese, and other East Asian languages at rural and underserved universities.

Another amendment to be taken up would prevent dependent children of green-card applicants from aging out of the legal immigration system.

The defense legislation is one of the few bipartisan bills in Congress, so its eventual passage is expected.

New caucus to focus on grad students

A new congressional caucus will bring attention to issues facing graduate students.

The bipartisan Graduate Research and Development Caucus will focus on policies related to the recruitment and retention of top talent from around the world to American universities, investment in research and support for graduate students, and postgraduation opportunities that allow student researchers to tackle national challenges. It will be led by two Democratic and two Republican members of the U.S. House.

As noted, a large share of graduate students come from overseas. (Over all, about a third of doctoral recipients are international students.) As a result, the top issues for graduate students often overlap with the priorities of those in international education.

Bowdoin to offer need-blind admission to international students

Bowdoin College will extend its need-blind admissions policy to international students, pledging to admit students from overseas without considering their ability to pay and to cover the full cost of their education.

The selective liberal-arts college in Maine is the second institution to announce such a policy this year, but as I write in The Chronicle, let’s not call it a trend.

Just a half-dozen American colleges are fully need-blind for international students. Few other colleges have Bowdoin’s deep pockets, and as a private institution, it doesn’t have to answer to taxpayers or lawmakers who might oppose an effort seen as favoring international students. With tight budgets, enrollments in decline, and the stock market taking a bite out of endowments, many colleges may need the revenue from international-student tuition more than ever.

Claudia Marroquin, Bowdoin’s dean of admissions and student aid, said the college was making the change as part of a commitment to equity and accessibility, regardless of background or citizenship. “It aligns our policies with our values,” she said.

But as I noted when Dartmouth College adopted a similar policy earlier in the year, it might also help the handful of need-blind institutions stand out in an increasingly competitive global market.

Around the globe

Esther D. Brimmer, chief executive of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, will step down at the end of 2022.

A federal appeals court heard arguments about the legality of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and could rule in the coming weeks on the future of the program, which protects from deportation young people brought illegally to the United States as children.

United Nations human-rights experts expressed concern that political sanctions were being applied to scientific and academic research and publishing, making it more difficult for researchers from sanctioned countries to publish in international journals.

A study of British universities found that less-selective institutions’ performance in college rankings affected their financial sustainability.

Test questions for Iran’s national college-entrance exam appeared to leak online.

The murders of female college students in Egypt and Jordan have raised new concerns about women’s safety and rights in the Middle East.

The University of Cambridge is investigating a string of student deaths that are suspected to be suicides.

A graduate student at Central European University has been jailed for three years by an Egyptian court for allegedly spreading false news.

Universities in Hong Kong could face a staffing crisis as faculty members join a wave of emigration.

A new fellowship will support early-career researchers in higher-education studies.

The international-education expert Rajika Bhandari turned the tables and interviewed me about the challenges and excitement of covering global education, especially during a pandemic, for her “EdUp World Wise” podcast.

And finally …

Colleges have long relied on recruiting students from China to feed their international pipelines. But with volatility in international enrollments — as well as continuing tensions between China and the West — colleges are thinking deeply about how they can draw people from a more diverse array of countries.

Join The Chronicle next Tuesday, July 19, at 2 p.m. ET for a virtual forum on diversifying the international-enrollment pipeline. I’ll moderate a panel of experts and practitioners to talk about how colleges can develop connections with new countries and avoid relying on too few international partners in the future.

Can’t make the session live? Register to have a recording of the webinar sent to your inbox.

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.