US bid to attract talent: Strategy to recruit, support and retain international students is needed, say education experts

“To ensure we have the science needed to fight the next global threat, strengthen our economy, and repair our relationships with other countries, we must outcompete other nations to welcome and retain the best and brightest from all around the world,” states the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration. “Congress should articulate the value of international students and send a message that they are welcome to succeed here by enacting proactive policies and exercising oversight to help us attract, welcome and retain students.”
The Alliance is a non-profit body comprising over 500 presidents and chancellors of US public and private colleges and universities, enrolling over five million students. Its members — who seek to attract talented international students — are privy to the harmful impact of outdated US immigration policies.
Executive director Miriam Feldblum and senior advisor Jill Welch presented their suggestions which were placed on record by the House subcommittee panel. A panel of US leaders recently heard discussions centered around ‘Oh, Canada! How outdated US immigration policies push top talent to other countries.’ The objective of this hearing was to ostensibly understand and improve US immigration programs.
They highlighted the slow but steady decline in the number of students to the US, the pivotal role played by foreign students in the arena of research and innovation as well as the importance of soft power (several world leaders have acquired education in the country) by which the US stands to gain in terms of better understanding and cooperation. Suggestions given by Feldblum and Welch include those meant for international students during their tenure and those that would help retain this talent.
Universities and colleges have been working hard to stem the decline in international student enrolments. But without a national recruitment strategy in place, the US is at a disadvantage with other competitor countries, they pointed out. They emphasised on the need for such a policy and active collaboration between government, higher education institutions and international exchange organisations.
Immigration and employment policies should aim at both boosting numbers and increasing the diversity of international students.
Key suggestions made by them for international students include:
* Expand dual intent to include international students (F visa) applicants. This would permit students who are being screened for a visa or when entering the US to communicate their interest to transfer to another legal status (ie work visa) after completion of their studies.
* Improve the visa application processing timeline for students and scholars. Improve processing times such as work authorisation for Optional Practical Training (OPT). If these delays are not reined in, it will not be possible to recruit and retain talented international students.
* Permit limited opportunities for international students to earn money. This will help non-wealthy international students and boost diversity. In turn, it would advance America’s foreign policy interests.
* Provide flexibility in education models, which could include low residency programs, online courses, and programs requiring multiple study abroad experiences.
Key suggestions made by them to help retain talent post completion of studies include:
* Congress should create a direct path to green cards for foreign student alumni, eliminate green card backlogs, and prevent future backlogs. Priority should be given to those with PhDs, master’s, bachelor’s and associate’s degrees from higher education institutions in the US, and should represent the wide range of fields of study needed in our economy. There is broad, bipartisan support for ‘stapling a green card’ to the diploma of international students graduating from US colleges and universities.
* Enact family-friendly policies for students and scholars by providing limited work authorisation for spouses of individuals with F status. Earning a US degree, especially a master’s degree or a doctorate, requires many years of study. If their spouses are allowed to work, it will help retain talented international students who can contribute to US innovation and competitiveness.
* Ensure that any changes to the H-1B Specialty Occupation Visa program facilitate the ability of international student alumni and scholars at US higher education institutions to access these temporary work visas. Wage prioritisation, for example, should take into account that new graduates of institutions often start off at H-1B status before advancing in their careers to eventually transition to lawful permanent residence status. Early career professionals must have access to these visas or it will risk cutting off the talent pipeline that the country needs to grow the economy.
“The Presidents’ Alliance respectfully urges Congress to articulate the value of international students and send a message that they are welcome to succeed here by enacting proactive policies and exercising oversight,” Feldblum and Welch summed up .

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