Panellists included university leadership, industry CEOs, immigration experts, government officials and international students.
In her opening remarks, Miriam Feldblum, executive director and co-founder of the Presidents’ Alliance asked how higher education is “embracing our role as an immigration pathway” and how leaders can “accelerate inclusion”.
The opening panel was composed of foreign-born, naturalised higher education leaders who discussed their own immigrant integration journey.
“I was able to go to college,” said president of Bunker Hill Community College, Pam Eddinger. “But I think of all the folks I left behind. It shaped the way I see talent. It’s not necessarily about talent in general, but where opportunity is placed.”
Javier Reyes, incoming chancellor at University of Massachusetts Amherst agreed. “You can have remarkable capabilities and desires but not opportunities,” he asserted.
As such, panellists advocated for increased opportunities for “the best and brightest” students of all backgrounds.
“People are on the move…we can play a big part in attracting talent and creating possibility for so many,” noted Esther Benjamin CEO of World Education Services. Benjamin proffered that her own migration journey shaped her commitment to “unlock opportunity, unlock possibility, and level the playing field”.
The experts suggested that as the US government’s immigration policies have shifted in accordance with presidential administrations, the nation may be losing ground to other countries that have consistently embraced welcoming policies toward immigrants.
“India also has a plan to attract a million international students”
“India is promoting branch campuses, private funding, tax benefits, and tech incentives. India also has a plan to attract a million international students. They’re poised in the next decade to be a significant source market,” said Benjamin.
Moderator Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, chancellor of University of Massachusetts Boston, broached the topic of language and identity and its relationship to the immigrant experience of many.
“Multilinguals have something very special in executive function, the jewel in the crown of higher cognitive skills. We need to offer all of the pathways to support literacy.”
Eddinger approached the language conversation from another standpoint – the language others use to discuss immigrants. She implored one must utilise assets-based language in immigration conversations.
“Immigrants don’t need to be rescued,” Eddinger continued. “We are not rescuing people. We are harnessing talent from other countries to enrich our own.”
Recommendations from the leaders included allowing in-state tuition for all visa types and offering more support for first generation students applying to HEIs. While acknowledging progress in the past few years, they concurred that the visa system still needed vast improvements and that a reduction in red tape would better facilitate the immigration process.
Finally, the group advocated for the creation of more opportunities for those who cannot financially access higher education and a reconsideration of post-grad work rights to encourage talent and to stay competitive with other top study destinations that offer clear paths to permanent residency.
Despite progress that has been made, barriers to naturalisation and inclusion remain. As such, part of the morning’s conversation centred around hinderances as well as recommendations for change.
“It’s important that we change the narrative of inclusion so we don’t forget each story and face behind the numbers.”
“It’s implied that there is a pathway to citizenship. But there isn’t really. In the last decade DACA recipients have been under threat,” advised Patricia Sobalvarro, executive director of Agencia ALPHA.
Harvard’s Mary Waters researches immigration and implored that higher education is far more important now than it was a century ago. “Many jobs did not require a HE degree. Now we have a real imperative for higher education for the knowledge economy. So, it’s now more important than ever that the community be inclusive.”
Eva Millona, chief officer of citizenship, partnership & engagement at the US Citizenship and Immigration Service agreed, adding, “It’s important that we change the narrative of inclusion so we don’t forget each story and face behind the numbers.” She further advocated for implementing policies that lead to better local models that become federal models.
Over lunch, leaders in higher education financing dialogued about the financial implications of higher education in the US. Lydiah Kemunto Bosire, founder & CEO of 8B Education Investments shared her journey from international student from Kenya to global entrepreneur.
She said initially faced numerous obstacles in her quest to help students fund their international experiences. “When you’re one of few people in the room with a specific experience you can either bicker about it and leave or stay and open doors.” Bosire said she chose the latter.
MPOWER Financing’s director of corporate strategy Sasha Ramani asserted, “Finances should not be a barrier to enrolment,” and offered some suggestions to address sub–Saharan Africa having the highest rate of visa denials.
“Finances should not be a barrier to enrolment”
He said the consulate in Lagos needs to be properly staffed and must make many more visa appointments available. He also called for a transparent set of visa acceptance criteria for all students.
“Let’s make the dream of a US education a reality before students decide to go elsewhere because they don’t think it is possible,” he added.
In closing, Feldblum asked participants to take the ideas from the session back to campus or the office. She recommended joining a community of practice around immigration and naturalization, and implored participants to advocate for pro-immigrant policies at the local and national levels.
“As we leave today, let’s not think about this as a one-off. Think about how we are sustaining the work & how to move it forward,” concluded Feldblum.
Post-event, Feldblum told The PIE News, “Stakeholders are ready not only to explore the important role that HEIs play as pathways to immigration and immigrant inclusion for our international, refugee, and Dreamer students, and community members, but also are ready to acknowledge that we need to be more intentional about embracing that role and work to reduce immigration barriers for these populations.”