Like most students entering their final year of school, Pan Wu is looking for a job. But for Wu, who will earn his Ph.D. in chemistry in May of next year, the stakes of that search are especially high. If he does not find employment quickly, he will have to return to China.
Wu’s predicament is one shared by thousands of foreign-born students who graduate from U.S. universities each year. Unless they have job offers that qualify them for work visas, most have no legal option to stay in the U.S. after graduating— an aspect of immigration policy that many university leaders decry as detrimental not merely to students, but also to the U.S.’s position as a leader in innovation.
"It's in our national interest to keep them here."
In June, President Richard H. Brodhead joined the leaders of more than seventy-five U.S. universities in making a case for less-restrictive policies for international scholars. The joint letter, which called on the White House and Congress to create easier routes to obtaining work visas, cited research from the Partnership for a New American Economy showing that 76 percent of patents resulting from university research have a foreign-born inventor.
“Each year, bright, talented students from around the world come to Duke to pursue graduate degrees,” Brodhead said in a statement explaining Duke’s position. “Along with their academic training, they absorb an American approach to thinking, problem-solving, and innovating, and they graduate with skills that can lead directly to new companies and jobs for our country. It’s in our national interest to keep them here.”
Li-Chen Chin, director of Duke’s International House, points out that Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom—the U.S.’s chief competitors for recruiting international talent—all have more-relaxed immigration policies for graduating students than the U.S.’s.
“You’re making an investment in the best and brightest the world has to offer,” says Chin. “So after their degree, you want to see a return on the investment.”
Wu agrees, saying, “a lot of people would benefit” from looser visa rules. He mentions a former classmate who wanted to launch a start-up business in the U.S., but learned visa restrictions made it nearly impossible to do so.
“It’s really hard to stay here and do anything out of academics, so he quit his Ph.D. and went back to China to start a company,” says Wu. If he’d had a start-up visa or green card for students, that would have helped him to “start his company here and recruit employees of the U.S,” he adds.