The U.S immigration reform

Since Sep 11, 2001, the U.S has been tightening its immigration policy, making it difficult for foreign students to stay in the U.S after they graduated. In recent years, this “Close door” immigration policy has been criticized by many politicians and described by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg as "National suicide" that train best workers then let them go back to their countries and compete with the U.S.

Last year, the U.S Congress proposed an immigration reform to change this policy. The proposals organized by both parties as well as President Barack Obama would offer work visas and permanent residence (Green cards) to foreign students who have advanced degrees (MS and Ph.D) in STEM areas (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.) to stay and work in the U.S. In his inaugural speech for his second term, President Obama declared: "Our journey is not complete ... until bright young foreign students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country." While Republicans and Democrats are still arguing on several issues but open immigration for STEM foreign students is something both parties have agreed. However when it passed, it would pose a big challenge for China, India and other developing countries that want their highly educated students to return home.

According to the U.S Institute of International Education, there are approximately 200,000 Chinese students and 130,000 Indian students studying in US universities during the 2011-2012 school years. The number can be expected to increase twice or three times in the next few years. A Congressional Service report that the highest number of students study STEM are Chinese (35%) followed by India (19%) South Korea (9 percent) and Japan (7%). It means that if the immigration reform is passed, the US will grant more permanent visas to these students.

The questions are: How many of them will return home? Will that damage the strategy of educated their top students abroad? Will this law completely hurt China's five -year plan (2011-2015) that aims to develop a knowledge society? Will it change India's plan to be the dominating force in Information Technology? According to a newspaper survey of foreign students, 68% of graduates expressed the desire to stay in the U.S rather than returning to their countries and 27% still undecided. Of course, this data created anger in China and India, a government officer called this: “A shameful stealing of our talented people, the robbery of our national resource.”

It is just a matter of time for this Immigration reform to pass and of course, the debate will continue. Developing countries will have to work harder to keep their skilled people at home. They will have to improve their education systems to develop their own talents. They will have to examine why they their education system failed. They will have to take actions to provide their skilled people the best working environment so they can use their skills to improve the economy. Unless they can do that, the exodus of their best talents to other developed countries will continue.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University