U.S. Immigration Policy Forces Talented PhDs to Leave the Country, Says Wash U Chancellor

As the chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, for more than two decades, Mark Wrighton has seen countless talented international students graduate from his institution and then be pushed out of the country. “We train our students to become leaders in their fields, only to send them home after graduation,” he says.

Throughout his tenure as chancellor and, in his previous job as a chemistry professor at MIT, Wrighton has witnessed the value foreign students bring to a university campus. “International students contribute enormously to our understanding of the history, politics, and culture of other countries,” Wrighton says. “They provide an exceptional educational opportunity for American students.” This is especially important in our increasingly global economy. “Many of our graduates will go on to work abroad or for a multinational company here in the United States,” Wrighton points out, adding that those who have studied alongside international students are often at a significant advantage. For this reason, under Wrighton’s leadership, Washington University has proactively recruited talented international students.

Yet, the U.S. immigration system prevents many international students from remaining here after graduation. This is especially detrimental to foreign PhD students. “We invest heavily in PhD education – often to the tune of roughly $300,000 per student – and these students are being trained to contribute original knowledge to our society,” Wrighton says. “But in many cases, the immigration system means these individuals have no choice but to return home after graduation.”

Other countries are reaping the benefits of American investment in these students.

Wrighton has an innovative idea to address this issue: “Every international PhD student who graduates from an American university should receive a green card upon completion of his or her studies.” This, Wrighton believes, would allow foreign students to use their knowledge and expertise to solve pressing problems facing America’s economy and society.

In the absence of such a measure, Wrighton fears the United States will lose ground. “Other countries are starting to invest more heavily in their own research institutions, which will encourage international students to remain in their home countries,” Wrighton explains. In addition, some countries have started incentivizing international students educated here to take jobs in their countries. “Other countries are reaping the benefits of American investment in these students.”

“The United States is home to the best research universities in the world,” Wrighton says. “We should provide opportunities for talented international graduates to remain in the United States and build on their educations.”

About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…