The NJ Business Immigration Coalition recommends policy changes to maintain American leadership in attracting international students and scholars

August 1, 2023, Plainsboro, New Jersey — The ability of U.S. colleges and universities to recruit top student talent from around the world is one of the least appreciated achievements of both the American educational system and the American economy. Although most students return to their countries of origin, a significant number qualify for temporary or permanent visas allowing them to remain in the U.S. and to contribute their skills and enterprise to the larger economy.

Their record as innovators and job creators is truly remarkable. For example, there are 143 U.S. billion-dollar start-up companies with a founder who attended a U.S. university as an international student.[1] These former students are creating thousands of jobs for American workers.

U.S. leadership in this area, however, is under serious challenge. More countries are recognizing the vital importance of international students and scholars to their economies and devising policies to attract and retain these students. Although the U.S. still attracts the highest number of these students, its share of the global population of international students declined from 28% in 2000 to 15% in 2022.[2] This is a worrisome decline.

Instead of creating pathways to permanent residence, the U.S. has erected a series of barriers deterring students from coming in the first place or forcing them to move to other countries after completing their studies.

Between 2017 and 2021, some 40,000 international students from the U.S. were accepted into Canada’s “Express Entry” program, allowing them to live and work in Canada and pursue permanent status there.[3] Canada’s international student enrollment in higher education has reached 20%, a level similar to that of the United Kingdom and Australia, while U.S., enrollment stands at only 5%[4]

After consultation with our membership and with input from New Jersey’s higher education community, the NJ Business Immigration Coalition makes the following recommendations for reforms designed to strengthen the country’s ability to attract and retain international students.

  • The U.S. should devise a broad policy goal in this area and should establish an advisory council to share insights, best practices, and recommendations on this issue. An effort should also be made to coordinate activities among relevant federal agencies, including Homeland Security, the Education Department, and the State Department.
  • The U.S. should loosen its requirement that all applicants for student or F-1 visas have what’s called “nonimmigrant intent” (that is, the desire not to move to the U.S. permanently). Denial rates for student visas reached an unprecedented 35 percent in FY 2022, so something needs to be done about this unreasonable barrier.
  • The U.S. should increase the number of H-1B visas available, so that more international students can begin the transition to permanent residence,
  • The U.S. also needs a substantial increase in the number of employment-based permanent resident visas. Only about 14% of all green cards issued annually are employment-based (and more than half of these visas go to family members of primary applicants).
  • The U.S. should create a direct pathway for holders of graduate degrees in STEM fields to advance directly to permanent residence.
  • Finally, if the number of H-1B visas and regular permanent resident visas are not increased, then the government should increase the length of time that students can engage in Optional Practical Training (or what’s called OPT), in order to give them more time to apply for H-1B visas. The government should also relax the requirements placed on employers who offer OPT jobs.

If the U.S. loses its appeal to international students, not only will colleges and universities in the U.S. suffer as a consequence, but also our entire economy will lose a powerful stimulus of innovation, entrepreneurship, and job creation. The New Jersey Business Immigration Coalition urges the New Jersey congressional delegation to take action to maintain American leadership in this area.

[1] Stuart Anderson, Immigrant Entrepreneurship and U.S. Billion-Dollar Companies, National Foundation for American Policy, July 2022, 3.

[2] National Immigration Forum, Five Solutions to Reverse the Declining Popularity of the U.S. Among International Students (Executive Summary), June 20, 2023, p. 2

[3] Niskanen Center, Previously unreported data: the U.S. lost 45,000 college grads to Canada’s high-skill visa from 2017 to 2021, March 14, 2023.

[4] World Education, Rising Costs in the U.S. Spark Concern Among International Students, February 14, 2023.