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International STEM Students Ditching US for Canada, Australia


International STEM students once flocked to American graduate schools, but they are increasingly looking elsewhere for their education. International applicants to US grad schools grew by only 1 percent this year, the smallest gain in eight years. The WSJ reports:

Applications from Chinese citizens to U.S. graduate schools declined 5% for the coming academic year amid worries about unstable funding for science programs and tight immigration policies.

The results raise an alarm for schools, which have relied on demand from international students—particularly those from China—to offset lackluster interest among U.S. citizens in some programs. Chinese students comprised roughly one-third of all international graduate students in 2011.

Chinese and other international students are instead turning to Canadian and Australian schools, due in large part to the efforts of both countries to loosen restrictions on immigration. Foreign students who graduate from an Australian university are now permitted to obtain a two-year work visa; those who complete a doctorate are allowed four years. In Canada, foreign graduates and their partners can apply for work permits for up to three years and can also get on a track to establish permanent residence. Canada has also invested $10 million to attract international students over the past two years; that’s money well spent: Canada’s Minister of International Trade Edward Fast says international students contributed more than $8 billion to Canada’s economy last year.

The United States is quickly falling behind its Anglosphere peers when it comes to efforts to attract skilled immigration. This year, the US set a cap of 85,000 for foreign work visas, 20,000 of which were reserved for students with master’s degrees from U.S. universities. The cap, meant to cover the entire year, was reached in less than a week.

This is a big deal. High-skilled immigrants boost the economy and help create jobs for native-born Americans. The US has long been the place where the world’s best and brightest come to realize their full potential. We should be doing whatever we can to make sure America retains that status in the years to come. We hope Congress is listening as it begins discussions on immigration reform.

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  • Tianhao Wu

    Graduate level education seems to be a paradox the U.S. has yet to solve. On the one hand, the media and policymakers are spreading the idea that STEM degrees are vital for enhancing economic growth.

    I take no issue with this statement regarding the T & E in STEM; there’s virtually a 0% unemployment rate for computer science undergrads from top universities.

    Yet, the same media outlets have continually espoused the theory of “the disposable academic” where biology and chemistry PHDs toil away for years in minimum wage conditions hoping to win the lottery and become tenure track.

    If there is such a high demand in the market for the natural science degrees, wouldn’t the glut of academic hopefuls shift from academia to industry? As someone working in finance, I know that many of our smartest quants are physics and math PHDs lured into the profession by lucrative wages. I refuse to believe that PHDs in the other sciences are somehow more nobel and shortsighted that they refuse to leave academia. This leads me to conclude that the opportunities for non-engineering, non-data heavy PHDs just arn’t that abundant.

    At the same time, I view retaining immigrant PHDs as one of the biggest competitive advantages the U.S. could have. Since top tier talent from across the world is willing to immigrate here and do the same high caliber of work for a significantly lower wage (their boss can always hold the threat of revoking the H1-Visa over their heads), by definition we are minimizing costs.

    • Atanu Maulik

      As someone working in finance, I know that many of our smartest quants are physics and math PHDs lured into the profession by lucrative wages.____The key point is that the science PhDs do eventually get good jobs and pay taxes and buy stuff and make a positive contribution to the economy. Yes it takes a bit longer, but they do eventually get there.

  • Anthony

    “…to offset lackluster interest among U.S. citizens in some programs.” Troubling if true because STEM curricula and interest among U.S. populace needs embracing (not to offset H-1B visas granted) in order to further U.S. population with a body of highly specialized knowledge globally competitive.

  • ojfl

    But instead of addressing this problem individually we are stuck with the comprehensive approach to immigration reform. I would assume this is one component that could be quickly addressed in Congress but is being held by this newfound love for enormous bills. We cannot fix stupid.

  • Luke Lea

    So are these students coming here to get an education or to get out of China (often with their parents’ stolen loot)?

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