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Ruzan Sarwar

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This Is What's Wrong With Our Immigration Policy

Posted: 08/14/2012 12:13 pm

The U.S. immigration system is broken. There is no doubt about it. And it is high time for a reassessment. One of the biggest issues to face immigration policy in recent years has been the difficulty confronted by foreign, skilled workers to obtain visas allowing them to legally reside and work in the US. Private sector visa caps, employer unwillingness and unfamiliarity with the process, and cost rank as the most apparent barriers to hiring foreign nationals.

I am a foreign national. I have spent 10 of my 25 years in this country, first in New York and then in Washington, D.C. I have gone to secondary school, college and one of the top graduate schools in the world, Georgetown -- all in the United States. I am a foreign affairs and international development professional, and I did foreign affairs policy for a Member of Congress. I am NOT illegal. I am an international student. I am soon heading back to Bangladesh to work in development there. But not because that was my first choice.

In the case of international students who emerge from a world-class education system, the challenges associated with finding a job in the U.S. after graduation are exacerbated by the difficulty thousands each year face in finding an employer that is open to hiring non-U.S. nationals. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard, "We would love to hire you, but you're not American." Some argue that foreign students are a threat to the U.S. workforce. A National Association of Foreign Student Advisers (NAFSA) report negates the assertion with the argument that,

Preventing high-skilled foreign nationals from working in the United States will not help U.S. students. It will harm them. Encouraging employers to hire foreign nationals overseas, rather than in America, will push capital from the United States to locations where the foreign talent is allowed to be hired.

Is it not worth it to invest, on the upper end of the spectrum, the roughly $4,000 it takes to sponsor a foreign student's work visa? The U.S. economy benefits from foreign nationals who are part of the workforce. A study conducted by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) shows that the addition of 100 H1-B workers would result in 183 American jobs. Foreign-born workers with advanced degrees pay over $20,000 in taxes per year, contributing significantly to tax revenues.

As it stands now, U.S. immigration policy all but ignores the potential economic benefits of an entire portion of the college educated workforce. Look at it this way: U.S. colleges and universities spend four solid years teaching, influencing and cultivating the intellect of thousands of international students who choose to study here, but the country does not actively harness and embrace their talents. Does this country really want to let someone with my educational background and earning potential go? The rational solution would be to integrate people like me into the U.S. workforce instead of opening the sphere for increased competition from abroad. By making it difficult for these students to become part of the workforce, the U.S. loses out on much needed revenue. After all, by leaving, I will provide my governance and development expertise to organizations abroad. I will pay taxes abroad.

Foreign students who emerge from STEM programs are more likely to obtain higher paying jobs, consequently paying more in taxes. But why stop there? Why not make it easier for students who focus on business, qualitative research, and international development to stay? The residency process in countries like Australia is conducive to allowing Australian-educated students to stay and work. The Australian government recognizes the value of foreign students as productive contributors to their national economy. It is high time the US does, as well.

The Brookings Institution recently published a study on the H1B visa process. The study revealed that employers in metropolitan U.S. cities want more work visas available. If employers want more visas, and foreign students like me have the desire to live, work and pay taxes in the US, shouldn't the mechanisms be simplified so that we are allowed to do so?

 
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