Higher Ed’s Warning: Travel Ban Undermines U.S. Tech Training & Hiring

The more than 125 U.S. tech companies that joined the ongoing court battle against the Trump administration’s travel ban have detailed the many business hindrances it could pose, such as stranding foreign-born employees outside the country, and discouraging talented workers abroad from taking jobs here.

But all companies, including tech leaders such as Apple, Google, and Amazon, should also be concerned about the impact of the Trump immigration restrictions on the American higher education institutions that provide the talent to refresh corporate hiring pools, university officials and education advocates say. International students make up a growing share of computer science, engineering, and business majors, while also providing needed financial support and global perspectives to American campuses.

U.S. colleges and universities—many of them private schools that are struggling financially and heavily discounting tuition charges as they compete for American applicants—often bolster their revenue by actively recruiting foreign students. State universities also collect higher tuition fees from foreign students than from U.S. students. The number of international students studying in the United States exceeded one million for the first time in the 2015-16 academic year, and these students added $32.8 billion to their schools and the U.S. economy, according to the Washington, DC-based group NAFSA: Association of International Educators.

“The lion’s share of foreign students pay out-of-state tuition,” NAFSA director of public policy Rachel Banks says.

Along with Amazon and Expedia, the University of Washington in Seattle and Washington State University filed declarations in support of Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson when he sued to overturn President Trump’s Jan 27 executive order barring entry into the United States for at least 90 days to people from seven nations with majority Muslim populations: Syria, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, and Sudan.

The Washington state public universities said their undergraduates, graduate students, faculty members, and scholars visiting from those nations, were either refused re-entry to the United States or were unable to travel for fear of being unable to return. Research trips, job interviews, and attendance at conferences abroad were stymied.

Trump’s order, which has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge in the Washington case, leaves open the possibility that more countries will be added to the travel ban. The Trump administration is trying to overturn the judge’s ruling, and a federal appeals court in San Francisco is scheduled to hear arguments on the issue Tuesday afternoon. The conflict is expected to wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The turmoil and uncertainty over Trump’s executive order threatens to erode foreign enrollments that some schools rely on to keep science and math-related departments alive—or even to prevent closing a campus entirely, higher education officials say.

More than half a million of the international students studying in the United States last academic year were concentrated in three top fields of study—engineering; business and management; and math and computer science, according to the Open Doors report of the Institute of International Education—a project backed by the State Department.

These students not only fill seats in undergraduate classes, but may also carry part of the teaching load as graduate students. In 2011, as many as 71 percent of the full-time graduate students in electrical engineering, and 65 percent in computer science, were foreign nationals, according to NAFSA. A greater percentage of international students choose to study in STEM fields than American students do, Banks says.

“Some colleges wouldn’t be able to offer science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (programs) without foreign students,” Banks says. Their presence broadens the course offerings for American students, she says.

U.S. schools serve as the beginning of a pipeline that introduces international workers with potential in technology fields into the US hiring pool. Many first enter the country on student visas, and then hopscotch across various visa types, such as the H1-B work visa, to stay here at American tech companies. Some obtain a green card and permanent residency.

Trump’s travel ban, and the confusion surrounding it as the court battles continue, could disrupt that international hiring pipeline, NAFSA’s counsel and director of immigration policy Heather Stewart says.

Students’ uncertainty goes beyond the seven nations named in travel ban

Since Trump issued his executive order, university international programs have been scrambling to advise their current foreign students as well as applicants abroad, as rumors about the government’s plans arise and spread around social media sites. The worries of families overseas aren’t limited to the seven nations already named in the immigration order.

At Montana State University, most of the anxious queries are coming from applicants in India, says David Di Maria, associate … Next Page »

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