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US election: a win-win for overseas students?

Mitt Romney, the US Republican’s presidential candidate, has called for foreign students who obtain Masters or Doctorate degrees in maths, science or engineering at US universities to be granted permanent residency in the country should he win the next election.

Romney is echoing the Democrat call for key international talent to be allowed to remain in-country. Photo: WEBN-TV

Both Romney and Obama back green cards for certain international STEM graduates

The move, aimed at retaining more foreign talent in the US, closely mirrors incumbent Barack Obama’s line on the issue and could spell a more favourable approach to international students whoever wins in November. Many argue it is too hard for international students to remain and work in the US after graduation.

Bill Colvin, vice president of international recruitment & enrolment services at the CollegeBound Network, told The PIE News: “I’ll be honest, I’m a bit at a loss for words, this was very surprising.

“It is comforting to know that regardless of the winner this November, international education policy will continue to move forward.”

Donna Scarboro, president of Association of International Education Administrators, agreed. “The influx of ambitious and capable foreign students and skilled immigrants has played out in our favour for generations.

“It’s not surprising that as a matter of logic backed by instinct, we are embracing the policies that reflect these realities.”

“Regardless of the winner, international education policy will move forward”

Last week, think tank the Partnership for a New American Economy, which is headed by the New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, backed an open letter from 100 university heads to the President, senators and congressmen, urging reform. It claims the US faces an emerging shortage of domestic STEM graduates that threatens its economy.

“In 2009, students on temporary visas were 45 per cent of all graduate students in engineering, math, computer science and physical sciences – earning 43 per cent of all master’s degrees and 52 percent of all PhDs,” states the letter.

“But after we have trained and educated these future job creators, our antiquated immigration laws turn them away.”

Obama has introduced a series of administrative reforms this year to ease the problem, but some doubt he or Romney can muster the congressional support to push through permanent residency.

“I would not read too much into election campaign rhetoric, so who knows if Romney’s views will become policy if he is elected,” Professor Philip Altbach, of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, told The PIE News.

“Immigration continues to be a “hot button” issue in the US. Many of Romney’s conservative supporters are anti-immigration.”

“Many of Romney’s conservative supporters are anti-immigration”

Others are happy enough that the issue is gaining attention in Washington. While the US remains the world’s leading student destination in absolute terms, its share of the student market slipped 5% between 2000 and 2009, with tough post-9/11 immigration policies a contributing factor.

Said Colvin: “To see the two of them agree on something like this is one more move in the right direction; [Obama’s] extension of Optional Practical Training, the expansion of eligible programmes and now a national dialogue in a presidential election.”

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