News / USA

Foreign Students Boost US Innovation

Study recommends foreign Ph.D students have easier path to U.S. green cards.
Study recommends foreign Ph.D students have easier path to U.S. green cards.


Joe DeCapua
Foreign students earning their doctoral degrees in the United States can help revitalize innovation and economic growth. A new study says the U.S. should make it easier for such students to enter and remain in the country.

Three economists gathered data on the contributions made by foreign students. The team was led by Keith Maskus, professor of economics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

“My interest was piqued quite a long time ago after September 11th, 2001. One of the reactions to that was that the United States decided for a period of about two or three years to make it much more difficult for students from particular regions of the world to enter the United States and study graduate programs, especially in science and engineering.”

He said, at the time, many in Washington and at universities warned that policy would hinder scientific development and innovation.

“And I thought, well, that’s very interesting, but do we really know if that’s true?”

So Maskus, along with Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak of Yale and Eric Stuen of the University of Idaho, gathered data – a lot of data.

“So what we did is got very detailed individual-level data on quite a large number of students – over 750,00 students, in fact – who had come to get Ph.Ds in the 100 top science and  engineering universities in the United States from the late 1970s to the late 1990s. And we had information about where they came from, [including] what their visa status was, what area they wrote their dissertations in and, of course, at which university,” he said.

The research indicated that diversity – a mix of American and foreign students -- can make a difference in productivity and efficiency.

“It seems to have something to do with the fact that networks and laboratory sciences [are] really a function of how the graduate students and the post- doctoral students and everyone else can specialize in some element of science – and also the fact that their undergraduate training and possibly some graduate training in whatever it is – mathematics or bench science or laboratory science – gives them different approaches to thinking about problems. And when these people can get together and bounce ideas off each other the sort of outcome of that is more dynamic intellectual process. And you get more ideas with having some diversity like that,” he said.

To get a U.S. visa, he said, students must demonstrate that either they or their family has enough money to pay for a substantial portion of their education. That’s even if the student’s education is paid for by a scholarship. He says the current philosophy is: you’re welcome to come and study in the U.S., but when you’re done you have to go home.

“We think that particular need to demonstrate this kind of income based ability to come to the United States is a little bit short-sighted. Our results show that you really ought to be more open to the highest quality students, regardless of their wealth or income back in their home countries. So that’s one thing. We would urge modification of American visa policy because of that,” said Maskus.

Another recommended change concerns permanent residence or green cards.

He said, “If you look at policy in other major importing countries, like Western Europe, Canada, Australia – these countries have gone down the road of dramatically increasing the access of what we call green cards -- they call permanent residence – to international students who do get Ph.Ds in science, technology and engineering fields, whether in their universities in those countries or maybe in the United States or in some of these other countries. For example, if you get a Ph.D in the United States, it becomes that much easier to become a permanent resident in Canada.”

Maskus and his colleagues say it would help the U.S. compete in the world if doctoral students had an easier time getting green cards. They say, currently, if those students want to remain in the U.S., they must find a local employer, who’ll work on their behalf to get a temporary visa.

“That does have the effect, we’re convinced, of pushing too many of these innovative people back outside the borders of the United States. So we argue for increasing the number of those visas and focusing on these students -- or even better -- just offering a very quick and straightforward process to permanent residence,” he said.

In their article in the journal Science, the authors say any innovation and economic growth gains would far outweigh any diminished job prospects for American workers.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs