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“We need a national strategy” – US call for gov support in talent race

Leading international education bodies have renewed calls for the US administration to produce a national strategy to support the sector’s growth and ensure the country remains competitive. 

Sherif Barsoum, associate vice president for global services at New York University, speaking at The PIE Live North America. Photo: The PIE.

The government has outlined plans to launch a new initiative for refugees that will allow colleges and universities to sponsor students from displaced backgrounds

Speaking at The PIE Live North America, representatives from NAFSA, The President’s Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, and New York University agreed that the US would benefit from a clear international education strategy, like those launched in recent years by countries including the UK, AustraliaCanada and New Zealand

“If we had half of what Canada has, we’d be super happy”

“If we had half of what Canada has, we’d be super happy,” said Joann Ng Hartman, senior impact officer at NAFSA. “What we’re looking for is really guidance and a pathway that leads us as a nation to be competitive. I think my US colleagues will agree with me that we are seeing the competition miles ahead of us.” 

“An international education policy would be wonderful,” agreed Sherif Barsoum, associate vice president for global services at New York University.  “The hope is that it is more specific, more action-oriented.”

The panellists at the Toronto conference told delegates that they were confident that incoming international student numbers were beginning to recover from the decline caused by the pandemic, with Ng Hartman describing herself as “cautiously optimistic” ahead of the release of America’s next Open Doors report, which will include student mobility data for 2021. 

“We’re going to see a rebound. We already have seen it in our schools and universities,” said Barsoum. “There is pent-up demand to come to the US to study.”

But Barsoum also predicted a decrease in the number of individuals participating in OPT – a program that allows eligible international graduates to stay in the US and work for up to 12 months. 

Barsoum argued that the US should widen eligibility for OPT and increase the available number of H-1B visas (which allow foreigners to work in the US) in order to remain competitive. 

Miriam Feldblum, executive director at Presidents’ Alliance, also called on the government to extend immigration routes for international students. 

“We are in a global competition for talent,” she said. “We need to get to a point where everyone in this room who’s at a US institution can say that coming as an international student to the US can be part of an immigration pathway.” 

Feldblum also said the country was at a “game-changer” moment when it comes to refugee education, as the government has outlined plans to launch a new initiative for refugees that will allow colleges and universities to sponsor students from displaced backgrounds. 

“There’s active engagement and interest from institutional leaders to support their undocumented students, their international students, their refugee students, and to advance practical forward-looking immigration policy change at many different levels,” Feldblum said, calling on the government to amplify “a public message of welcome”.

But Feldblum described the recent DACA ruling, which found that the program that gives the children of undocumented immigrants the right to stay and work in the US is unconstitutional, as “devastating”. 

“It was heart-wrenching for so many DACA recipients, many of whom are now staff, faculty [and] alumni on our campuses,” she said, emphasising the need for a “legislative solution”. 

Panellists agreed that continued advocacy by international education organisations would be crucial to progress. 

“Every international educator has a powerful tool called advocacy”

“Every international educator has a powerful tool called advocacy,” Barsoum told The PIE after the event. “When they do it with passion, with purpose, starting locally on campus and in the community, it will have a ripple effect all the way up to congress and the courts with the ultimate goal of world peace and understanding.”

Ethan Rosenzweig, deputy assistant secretary for academic programs at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs also spoke at the event, expressing the Biden-Harris administration’s support for the sector.

“It’s constantly evolving,” Rosenzweig said about the Joint Statement of Principles in Support of International Education, before hinting about future changes. “I think the next iteration is going to even more articulate the power of ensuring the world knows our doors are open.”

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