Forum Statement for the Record – “Strengthening our Workforce and Economy through Higher Education and Immigration”

 

Statement for the Record

U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary – Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety

Hearing on “Strengthening our Workforce and Economy through Higher Education and Immigration”

June 14, 2022

The National Immigration Forum (the Forum) advocates for the value of immigrants and immigration to the nation. Founded in 1982, the Forum plays a leading role in the national debate about immigration, knitting together innovative alliances across diverse faith, law enforcement, veterans, and business constituencies in communities across the country. Leveraging our policy, advocacy, and communications expertise, the Forum works for comprehensive immigration reform, sound border security policies, balanced enforcement of immigration laws, and ensuring that new Americans have the opportunities, skills, and status to reach their full potential.

The Forum appreciates the opportunity to provide its views on the solutions to strengthen America’s workforce and economy through higher education and immigration. The U.S. is the world’s leading recipient of international students.[1] It is also home to more than 3.6 million Dreamers,[2] 611,000 DACA recipients[3] — who were educated in the U.S.[4] — and over 200,000 Documented Dreamers who came to the United States when they were children as dependents on their parents’ work visas.[5] Moreover, there are approximately 321,000 undocumented and asylum-seeking children who are being educated in U.S. public schools.[6] These unique populations all have the capacity to significantly contribute to the U.S. workforce in meaningful ways and to help strengthen the U.S. economy, especially if they have viable pathways to permanent lawful status in the U.S.

Attracted by the global prestige of American universities, the United States is by far the world’s leading recipient of international students.[7] According to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, in 2020 — the most recent year where it has gathered data — the U.S. received 1,075,496 international students who contributed $38.96 billion to the national economy and supported over 415,990 jobs in the U.S.[8] International students contribute even more to our economy when they are allowed to stay and work after they graduate. Studies have indicated that a 1% increase in immigrant graduates from U.S. colleges results in a 15% increase in patents per capita.[9] Additionally, international students are more likely to start businesses than U.S. citizens.[10] Half of U.S. private companies worth over $1 billion have founders who came here first as international students.[11]

Despite their economic importance, international students do not have a guaranteed path to stay in the U.S. after graduation. The few alternatives they have are generally limited to obtaining Optional Practical Training (OPT),[12] petitioning for an H-1B nonimmigrant visa,[13] or applying for a green card, along with a handful of other options.[14] However, OPT recipients can only work in the United States for 36 months after graduation if they studied a career in the fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) and only for 12 months if they pursued a non-STEM degree.[15] H-1B nonimmigrant visas are numerically capped, require employer sponsorship, and are limited to three years with the possibility of extensions for a total of six years. [16]  Medical students on J visas face a two-year “residency requirement,” requiring them to return to their home country for two years before being able to apply for the H-1B lottery.[17] Finally, employment-based green cards have an onerous application process and long backlogs that make many employers unwilling to sponsor graduates unless they have already been hired through the H-1B visa process.[18]

The scarcity of immigration options and the complicated bureaucracy required for international students to stay in the U.S., have pushed some future CEOs, inventors, and researchers to study in countries with more welcoming migration laws, such as the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.[19] Worryingly, the total new enrollment of international students plummeted by 43% between 2019 and 2020 in the U.S.[20] This was due in part to Covid-19, but is also largely attributable to choices made by policymakers in Washington, D.C., who have failed to reform the immigration system to adapt to the new social and economic needs of the country. This decline has reduced the number of potential workers, adding pressure to the persistent labor shortages that the United States is currently facing.[21] Besides the waning interest of international students in coming to study in the United States, our country’s antiquated immigration system is forcing American-educated foreign students to live in a legal limbo that hinders their careers and, in some cases, forces them to self-deport.

There are an estimated 3.6 million Dreamers[22] — immigrants who came to the U.S. as children who lack immigration status — who live in the United States. The vast majority of them have been educated in the U.S., and many have obtained higher-education degrees in the U.S. [23] Some of them have become doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers, or engineers, and they have become essential members of the American workforce.[24] Approximately 611,000 of these Dreamers currently have DACA[25], which protects recipients from deportation and allows them to obtain a work permit.[26] DACA, however, does not offer a path to permanent status.

Facing legal challenges and lacking a permanent solution from Congress, DACA remains in limbo. Currently, DACA recipients are eligible for DACA renewals, but initial DACA applicants cannot receive adjudications on their cases due to a federal court injunction.[27] There are numerous children who do not meet the current DACA criteria because they arrived in the U.S. after 2007, but nevertheless are attending U.S. schools and are similarly situated to DACA recipients.

Additionally, the United States is home to over 200,000 Documented Dreamers.[28] Many of them are obtaining professional degrees from colleges and universities across the country.[29] However, due to various flaws and failures in the U.S. immigration system,[30] Documented Dreamers are in danger of “aging out” of their parents’ work visas at 21, prior to receiving a green card, and face a limited (and sometimes nonexistent) menu of options to retain their legal status, with many being forced to self-deport. As a result, many Documented Dreamers, despite considering America their home, are forced to leave the country and apply their knowledge, education, and experience elsewhere.

Given the abundance of students and professionals educated in the U.S. who are already in the U.S. and would like to stay and work in the U.S. or those who would like to attend university and then work in the U.S., the Forum supports legislation aimed at creating and enhancing the legal avenues to attract and retain international and American-educated students in the United States. It is essential for Congress to pass needed immigration reforms that include viable alternatives for international students to stay in the U.S. and provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and Documented Dreamers. Among the many immigration-related bills introduced in Congress, there are some bipartisan, common-sense bills that would ease the legal barriers for foreign-born students to come to the United States and consequently help realize America’s full potential.

Among them, the American Dream and Promise Act of 2021 would provide a permanent solution for Dreamers and TPS holders.[31] The America’s Cultivation of Hope and Inclusion for Long-term Dependents Raised and Educated Natively (CHILDREN) Act of 2021 would provide a pathway to citizenship to Documented Dreamers.[32] The Let Immigrants Kickstart Employment (LIKE) Act would provide new immigration alternatives to high-skilled foreign-born entrepreneurs in the U.S.[33] The Jumpstart Our Legal Immigration System Act (Jumpstart Act) would recapture unused green cards and protect Documented Dreamers from aging out.[34] The Equal Access to Green Cards for Legal Employment (EAGLE) Act would equalize green card backlogs by eliminating per-country caps for employment-based visas and raising per-country caps for family-based visas.[35]

It is essential to reform the U.S. immigration system to attract and retain international students. It is also critical to provide a pathway to permanent lawful status for foreign-born individuals in the U.S. who grew up and were educated in the U.S. to achieve the United States’ full economic potential. Their talents, education, innovations, ideas, and commitment to the U.S. are fundamental to help the U.S. economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and operate at full capacity. The contributions of international students, along with the immigrant workforce as a whole, benefit all sectors of the economy. Accordingly, Congress should enact immigration reforms to expand the legal avenues for international students to come and stay in the United States and for Dreamers to have permanent status in the United States. These reforms can help solidify the U.S.’s status as the world’s leading recipient of international students while also addressing persisting labor shortages, filling job openings in key sectors dependent on immigrant labor, and strengthening the U.S. economy.

[1] M. Szmigiera, Top host destination of international students worldwide in 2020, by number of students, Statista, June 3, 2022. Available at https://www.statista.com/statistics/297132/top-host-destination-of-international-students-worldwide/

[2] Laurence Benenson, Fact Sheet: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), October 16, 2020. Available at https://immigrationforum.org/article/fact-sheet-on-deferred-action-for-childhood-arrivals-daca/

[3] USCIS, Count of active DACA Recipients, December 31, 2021. Available at https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/document/reports/Active_DACA_Recipients_December_31_2021.pdf

[4] Justia, School Requirement for DACA, October, 2021. Available at https://www.justia.com/immigration/daca/school-requirement-for-daca/

[5] Improve the Dream, 200,000 Children Face Self-Deportation. Available at https://www.improvethedream.org/

[6] Shelly Culbertson, Julia H. Kaufman, Jenna W. Kramer, Brian Phillips, Undocumented and Asylum-Seeking Children from Central America and Mexico, RAND Corporation, 2021. Available at https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RBA1326-1.html

[7]M. Szmigiera, Top host destination of international students worldwide in 2020, by number of students, Statista, June 3, 2022. Available at https://www.statista.com/statistics/297132/top-host-destination-of-international-students-worldwide/

[8] U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Education Service Exports. Available at https://www.trade.gov/education-service-exports

[9] Business Roundtable, The Economic Impact of Curbing the Optional Practical Training Program, December 2018. Available at https://www.businessroundtable.org/policy-perspectives/immigration/economic-impact-curbing-optional-practical-training-program

[10] Danilo Zak, Fact Sheet: International Students, April 30, 2020. Available at https://immigrationforum.org/article/fact-sheet-international-students/

[11] Ryan Craig, International Students Are Key To Continued American Economic Leadership, June 28, 2018. Available at https://www.forbes.com/sites/ryancraig/2018/06/28/international-students-are-key-to-continued-american-economic-leadership/?sh=712787461856

[12] USCIS, Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F-1 Students, Available at https://www.uscis.gov/working-in-the-united-states/students-and-exchange-visitors/optional-practical-training-opt-for-f-1-students

[13] USCIS, H-1B Electronic Registration Process. Available at https://www.uscis.gov/working-in-the-united-states/temporary-workers/h-1b-specialty-occupations-and-fashion-models/h-1b-electronic-registration-process

[14] USCIS, Green Card for Employment-Based Immigrants. Available at https://www.uscis.gov/green-card/green-card-eligibility/green-card-for-employment-based-immigrants

[15] USCIS, Optional Practical Training Extension for STEM Students (STEM OPT). Available at https://www.uscis.gov/working-in-the-united-states/students-and-exchange-visitors/optional-practical-training-extension-for-stem-students-stem-opt

[16] USCIS, H-1B Electronic Registration Process. Available at https://www.uscis.gov/working-in-the-united-states/temporary-workers/h-1b-specialty-occupations-and-fashion-models/h-1b-electronic-registration-process

[17] Danilo Zak, Fact Sheet: International Students, April 30, 2020. Available at https://immigrationforum.org/article/fact-sheet-international-students/

[18] USCIS, Green Card for Employment-Based Immigrants. Available at https://www.uscis.gov/green-card/green-card-eligibility/green-card-for-employment-based-immigrants

[19] M. Szmigiera ,Top host destination of international students worldwide in 2020, by number of students, Statista, June 3, 2022. Available at https://www.statista.com/statistics/297132/top-host-destination-of-international-students-worldwide/

[20] Council on National Security and Immigration (CNSI), High-Skilled Immigration: America’s Key for National Security and Competitiveness. Available at https://www.cnsiusa.org/_files/ugd/5b8edc_83cf23cb9c624ca1a466d26f6bdbfbea.pdf

[21] Arturo Castellanos Canales, America’s Labor Shortage: How Low Immigration Levels Accentuated the Problem and How Immigration Can Fix It, February 28, 2022. Available at https://immigrationforum.org/article/americas-labor-shortage-how-low-immigration-levels-accentuated-the-problem-and-how-immigration-can-fix-it/

[22] Laurence Benenson, Fact Sheet: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), October 16, 2020. Available at https://immigrationforum.org/article/fact-sheet-on-deferred-action-for-childhood-arrivals-daca/

[23] National Immigration Forum, Comment of the National Immigration Forum in Support of the Proposed Rule on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Docket No. 2021-0006. November 15, 2021. Available at https://immigrationforum.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Comment-of-the-National-Immigration-Forum-in-Support-of-the-Proposed-Rule-on-Deferred-Action-for-Childhood-Arrivals.pdf

[24] Id.

[25] USCIS, Count of active DACA Recipients, December 31, 2021. Available at https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/document/reports/Active_DACA_Recipients_December_31_2021.pdf

[26] USCIS, Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), April 12, 2022. Available at https://www.uscis.gov/DACA

[27] Samantha Howland-Zelaya, The Current State of DACA: Challenges Await in Litigation and Rulemaking, April 15, 2022. Available at https://immigrationforum.org/article/the-current-state-of-daca-challenges-await-in-litigation-and-rulemaking/

[28] Improve the Dream, 200,000 Children Face Self-Deportation. Available at https://www.improvethedream.org/

[29] Id.

[30] National Immigration Forum, Bill Analysis: Jumpstart Our Legal Immigration System Act, April 22, 2022. Available at https://immigrationforum.org/article/bill-analysis-jumpstart-our-legal-immigration-system-act/

[31] National Immigration Forum, Bill Summary for American Dream and Promise Act of 2021, March 12, 2021. Available at https://immigrationforum.org/article/bill-summary-american-dream-and-promise-act-of-2021/.

[32] National Immigration Forum, Bill Summary for America’s CHILDREN Act of 2021, November 18, 2021. Available at https://immigrationforum.org/article/bill-summary-for-americas-children-act-of-2021/.

[33] Arturo Castellanos Canales, Bill Analysis: Let Immigrants Kickstart Employment Act, National Immigration Forum, September 7, 2021. Available at https://immigrationforum.org/article/bill-analysis-let-immigrants-kickstart-employment-act/

[34] National Immigration Forum, Bill Analysis: Jumpstart Our Legal Immigration System Act, April 22, 2022. Available at https://immigrationforum.org/article/bill-analysis-jumpstart-our-legal-immigration-system-act/

[35] National Immigration Forum, Bill Summary: The EAGLE Act, July 8, 2021. Available at https://immigrationforum.org/article/bill-summary-the-eagle-act/

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