Experts Say US Immigration Policies Keep Foreign Students, Workers Away

24 February 2006
Via VOA News

Some lawyers and educators are calling for
changes in U.S. immigration policies. They say current rules are too
restrictive and discourage talented people from around the world from
coming to the United States to study, teach and work. They worry that
many of them will go to other countries instead, diminishing the United
States’ ability to compete in many fields.

The United States is a nation built and sustained
by its immigrants. But some experts worry that increasingly tough
immigration laws in a post-September 11, 2001 world are limiting the
flow of highly skilled people into this country.

They say there is a need for comprehensive reform of these laws so
that immigration will once again become a positive force in U.S.
competitiveness. Michael Greco, the president of the American Bar
Association (lawyers), and himself an immigrant, says the current
system is failing to meet the needs of the nation. “Our laws and
attitudes on immigration have been almost schizophrenic. At times we
have thrown open our nation’s doors virtually without limit; at other
times we have tried vainly to build walls – legal and physical. Today
our laws reflect that confusion,” he said.

Panelists at a discussion of U.S. immigration policies Thursday in
Washington said there are too many examples of talented students being
denied visas to the United States because of overly restrictive laws
and polices. They warn this puts the United States at a serious
competitive disadvantage in the world economy.

Debra Stewart heads the Council of Graduate Schools. She says
applications from foreign students for masters and doctoral level
studies at U.S. universities have dropped off by nearly half since the
September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. She says the U.S.’s
competitive advantage which it has had since World War II is in
jeopardy of slipping away.

“Declines of this magnitude raise very serious questions of whether
America would even be able to continue its position of thought
leadership in the world given the intimate relationship between
graduate education and research as key drivers of the American economy,
of innovation, and of prosperity,” she said.

The experts attribute the overall decline to several factors,
including real and perceived difficulties in obtaining student visas,
rising U.S. tuition costs, recruitment activities by other
English-speaking nations and perceptions abroad that it is more
difficult for international students to come to the United States.

Bill Wulf is the president of the National Academy of Engineering.
He says over the last century immigrants have made some of the most
important contributions to the fields of science and engineering in the
United States, and their contributions continue to be vital.

“Between 1990 and 2004 over one-third of Nobel prizes awarded to
Americans were to foreign-born Americans. It’s clear we’ve been
skimming the best and brightest from around the world and prospering
because of it. We need these new Americans even more now as other
countries become more technologically capable, as they emulate the U.S.
model for prosperity,” he said.

In addition to the decline of foreign student enrollments at
universities, the number of foreign workers with specialized skills is
also dropping.

Immigration lawyer Daryl Buffenstein says getting visas for
high-skilled workers is very difficult. Some visas take many months,
others take years. He says Americans lose when they have to send jobs
overseas because they cannot bring the specialists to the United
States. “If we can’t get the technology to where the manufacturing is,
we must take the manufacturing to where the technology is,” he said.

The experts argue that real security and prosperity come from a
balance of keeping out those who will do harm, and welcoming those that
do us good. With selected thoughtful changes to US policy, they say,
the U.S. could achieve both

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