L.A Times: Is United States Losing The War To Attract Global Talent?

Foreign students contributed to changing American universities for the better… and vice versa Source: AP/AFP/Reuters
Students are very different in how they approach the idea of ​​foreign dependence, they see it from the perspective of a very sophisticated consumer. Should I go to the USA? Is this the best return on investment for my family’s money? Or should I go to the UK or another country? In fact, students are armed with information in a way that was not available before.
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Los Angeles Times interviews writer Virginia Posterle attempts to shed light on how to confront one of the world’s most pressing policy challenges , which relates to immigration policies . In this context, she conducted the following interview with the author of the book “America Calling: A Foreign Student in a Country of Possibility,” who came to the United States as a graduate student in psychology in 1992, and worked For many years at the Institute of International Education, in addition to holding other positions in international education.

Below is the text of the interview:

Virginia Postrel: Your new book, America Calling, is a memoir of your own experiences and an account of the general situation of international students in the United States. How is the experience of current students today different from when you came to the United States?

However, there are many things that have not changed. first and foremost; The ongoing challenges related to immigration, which govern the existence of international student life in the United States in a way that most people who do not have to experience it will never fully understand.

Another point that remains the same is that international students, especially students who come from societies and cultures that are significantly different from the United States; They are still not fully prepared for the vastly different academic culture; Such as the idea of ​​the university classroom as a very open and democratic environment; The idea of ​​being truly independent in your learning; And the idea that you can and should question your professor because you’re actually going to be evaluated based on how well you can express your ideas and think critically. In fact, these points can actually be shocking to many students coming from very traditional Asian cultures, where there are strict hierarchies in the classroom – and heaven forbid you ask the professor.

Middle class students

Virginia Postrel: What is the current distribution between graduate and undergraduate international students?

Rajika Bhandari: Until about a decade ago, the presence of foreign students in the United States was dominated by those who came to the United States to study a master’s or doctoral degree. Later; With the huge growth in the Chinese middle class, there has been this huge influx of young Chinese students at the university level. Over the past few years; We’ve seen more college students coming to the United States. However, according to some statistics for this year, it appears that this gap may be narrowing again.

One reason is that international undergraduate students were often full-fee paying students. They are the ones who really finance the profits of American institutions. However; These are also those whose families have been economically affected by the pandemic. In many countries, the middle class itself has shrunk, with many families now reconsidering whether they have the resources to pay for their children’s education abroad.

Virginia Postrel: What don’t Americans understand about international student experiences?

Rajika Bhandari: People often don’t appreciate how important international students were to the history of America’s success after the 1960s, from technology to academia to medicine. One of the founders of Moderna was an international student. The new CEO of Twitter was also an international student. In this context, many Americans know that these individuals are immigrants, but what their journey was like—and why education was a truly important aspect of that journey—is not well understood.

Return home

Virginia Postrel: There’s a kind of pantomime that everyone involved has in which students come to the United States to study and then return to their home countries. This is what student visas are based on. When you came, this was your intention as well. Do you find this model unrealistic?

Rajika Bhandari: This question is really at the heart of why I wrote this book. I’ve become increasingly frustrated that we in the United States don’t want to have a frank conversation about the path from higher education to skilled talent, and how countries grow their talent pools.

In almost every developed country – look at the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and many others – the path from education to immigration has been ubiquitous for a very long time. As for the United States; This was never the case. If we look at the statistics; 70 to 80% of international students remain in the United States after their studies. However, the influx of international students is still seen within the framework of this “exchange”, this pantomime I mentioned earlier of bilateral exchange. But it is not an exchange; More students come than go. And the number of people who come to exchange programs, such as the pioneering Fulbright program, is very, very small. Most of the students who come here are individually motivated students who pay their way.

In addition; One of the biggest challenges is that the international student (F-1) visa is still called the “single-intent visa,” which means that a 17-year-old college student has to stand up in front of a consular affairs officer in his or her country of origin and say, “Yes, “I’m pretty sure I’ll be back in four years.” How do you know? We don’t ask 17-year-olds in the United States to know exactly what they will decide in four years. I think most students act honestly and say what they think is the right thing for them, and that was true for me. But we evolve and change.

Proposed reforms

Virginia Postrel: What reforms to the system do you propose?

Rajika Bhandari: First, the single intention requirement must be removed from the student visa. Another problem is that the practical work opportunities that international students have after their studies, through the Optional Practical Training programme, are currently incredibly fraught, as the program was not created through legislation. So; It is like a sword hanging around the neck of every international student: Will I be able to continue this year of work after studying or not? What will happen?

Overall, we need to ease this transition path from being a student to joining the workforce, as the constraints and backlogs at the moment are really great. It’s a question of looking at the talent that the United States is losing – talent that was trained in the United States.

Virginia Postrel: How does the U.S. immigration system impact international students’ experience while they are here? How is their experience different from that of an American student who might be in the same program with them?

Rajika Bhandari: There is a crippling sense of uncertainty that governs an international student’s entire time in the United States. There are many immigration rules that must be adhered to, for example, regarding the amount of courses that must be chosen in each semester. In addition; Most American students are free to finish the semester, especially graduate students: “I’ll still enroll, but I’m going to work for two years at the World Bank.” But such freedom is not available to international students. When you are an international student; Everything you do in your study program is subject to immigration rules.

In fact, I say sarcastically in the book, many people have the stereotype that, “Oh, international students are brilliant, they finish their PhD in just five or six years. They’re so smart.” But it’s not that they’re smart, it’s that they don’t have any choice. They have no choice but to stay the course and meet these requirements, otherwise they will immediately lose their eligibility and be forced to return to their countries.

This feeling of uncertainty hangs over you, as you go down this path. It’s a process

Endless waiting and not knowing. The student applies for a work permit for optional practical training, and then waits and waits, because he does not know when it will come. Then he can apply for a work permit (H1-B). This option comes with its own uncertainty, and it really governs the entire existence of an international student in a way that American students don’t even have to think about.

Canadian experience

Virginia Postrel: How does this compare to the experience in Canada, for example?

Rajika Bhandari: Policies in Canada are friendlier to international students because of this clear understanding that education is a path to jobs and the workforce.

Virginia Postrel: Many people who want to restrict, not eliminate, immigration want to direct it toward highly educated individuals who bring a lot of human capital. But I’m concerned about some potential side effects of this model. In fact; Part of the implicit American social contract – which is not always respected – is that we respect each other as individuals, especially in the context of work. We respect the person who does the work, and we do not belittle him because his job is low-paid or requires less education. The work itself deserves respect. Does accepting so many privileged people from hierarchical societies like India risk eroding egalitarian relations in everyday American life? Do people who belong to the elite in highly hierarchical societies bring this elite point of view with them, injecting it into everyday American life?

Rajika Bhandari: That’s a great question, and I’m not excepting myself here. I think there is something special about entering a new society as a student, because you are like a sponge, and at an age when your values, ideas, and beliefs are still being formed. And therefore; An experience can have a profound and transformative effect on a person, and this was certainly the case for me.

I realize that I came with a lot of the ideas I just put forward, from a society that was very strictly organized along class lines. I had my own biases and beliefs, whether it was about race, skin colour, or the dignity of work. Since I am in the United States; This has really forced me to confront my biases, grow and change to become more open in my thinking, and hopefully be a better person.

This is the only thing I tell students these days, when they ask me, I want to come to the United States and study, how can I succeed? So one of the challenges I tell them is to really think about making yourself open to how society can actually change you.

Understanding society

Virginia Postrel: How did studying and living in the US help you understand India better?

Rajika Bhandari: When you leave your home, and you stay away from it for a sufficient period of time, it really gives you this sense of objectivity and the feeling of being an outsider looking in – you know this community really well, but you’re one step away from it. For me, these lessons were very much about sexism, and my place in the world as a young woman: seeing my country and my community for what it is, and realizing that this is not what I want for myself. I want something different.

Virginia Postrel: Although there were definitely negative experiences in the book, they made me feel good about the country. It was a positive view of America – and it’s not a pretty fairy tale, but if you want to come here, and then you end up staying here, there must be something good about this country.

Rajika Bhandari: I’m really happy to hear you say that. What attracts people to the United States? I say in the book, it is the country that gave the world “Indiana Jones.” I wasn’t trying to be rash – I’m just saying, this idea of ​​freedom is embodied in different ways: freedom of thought, freedom to pursue one’s aspirations, and freedom to remake yourself.

Virginia Postrel: You have a great example of your surprise when you saw someone in the United States wearing braces even though they were an adult; I saw this as a sign of reshaping yourself.

Rajika Bhandari: It’s that freedom, which manifests itself in so many different ways, that students also encounter once they get here; They are pushed to think in ways they have never experienced before. I think that’s what really attracts people here. In fact, this freedom still exists, despite all the challenges the country has faced over the past four or five years.


Source: Los Angeles Times

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