On Tuesday, two of the foremost experts on H-1B guest-worker visas warned Congress that some of the guest-worker bills being considered in Congress may have the unintended consequences of turning colleges into green-card factories and giving them control over who gets admitted into the United States.
In submitted testimony before Tuesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on H-1B visas, Howard University Public Policy Professor Ron Hira noted that Senate’s “Gang of Eight” comprehensive amnesty bill “proposed to eliminate labor certification for all STEM graduate students and eliminate the cap on their numbers.” Other bills like the SKILLS Act in the House and the “I-Squared” Act being considered in the Senate will place universities in “a conflict of interest situation by becoming the sole gatekeeper for issuing green cards,” he said.
Hira said “this key issue was not addressed in any of the hearings on [the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” amnesty bill] yet it might have the most lasting and largest impact on the American labor market. Congress, not Universities, should be making decisions on who can immigrate to the United States.”
“Universities will essentially be able to sell green cards to foreign students. Given that Master’s degrees are short in duration, and have little oversight from outside bodies, this provision will make it inexpensive for foreigners to purchase green cards,” Hira said in his statement. “We will see a flood of foreign student applications, which will crowd out American students from the STEM fields. Those foreign students will in turn flood the labor market in the STEM fields, depressing wages, and further steering American students from studying these fields.”
Establishment Republicans and Democrats have been united in calling for graduate students in the STEM fields to automatically receive green cards upon graduation. It was one of the few issues that united President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012.
“If you get an advanced degree here, we want you to stay here – so we will staple a green card to your diploma,” GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said during the 2012 campaign. “We want the best and brightest to enrich the nation through the jobs and technologies they will help create.”
At Tuesday’s hearing, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) also touted what is known as his “Staple Act” that would automatically reward green cards to Ph.D students in STEM fields.
But automatically awarding such graduate students green cards may give colleges–and immigrants looking to come to the United States–incentives to game the system.
Rutgers University Public Policy Professor Hal Salzman noted in his submitted testimony that the “Green Cards for Grads” provisions in “I-Squared and other bills would further distort the U.S. higher education system, providing incentives for colleges and universities to establish, or expand current Masters programs as ‘global services’ that offer a green card for the price of a graduate degree, and that are offered primarily or even exclusively for foreign students and directly or indirectly exclude U.S. students.”
“The I-Squared green card provisions are just a means, by another name, to create a glut of STEM workers who will flood the labor market, with the predictable consequences of any market glut,” Salzman testified. “And, along the way, it will erode the nation’s innovation foundation anchored in American universities as they close their doors to U.S. students, just as the California State University system did when it decreed that its graduate programs were closed to state residents and, to increase revenue, effectively favored admissions to foreign students who now comprise over 90 percent of some STEM masters programs.”
He added that even “current guest-worker visa policies for students and new graduates appear to provide incentives to colleges and universities to establish Masters programs that, as their business model, almost exclusively recruit foreign students into lower quality programs that provide easy entry into the U.S. labor market, further expanding the supply of entry-level STEM workers.”
Salzman noted in his submitted testimony that at the extreme, there have been “fraudulent programs” at Universities that “have grown to target foreign students as part of a business model to generate revenue rather than provide a high quality, graduate-level education.”
“These are programs in lower-tier schools and programs in higher ranked schools but are structured to serve foreign students with a lower quality education,” he said in his submitted testimony. “The institutions with some of the highest ratios of OPT-STEM extension awards to enrollments were found by a 2011 Chronicle of Higher Education investigation to target foreign students as the primary population for their programs.”
Salzman noted that some of these colleges that game the system charge students, in addition to tuition, “up to $3,000 in fees for obtaining the work authorization.”
He mentioned that the study found that “at some universities, such as Tri-Valley University in California…. students do not even attend classes; the business model was ‘selling permission to live and work in the United States on student visas.'”
Salzman also busted the myth that America is sending the “best and the brightest” home to start business abroad after America educates them. That is a line that Republicans and Democrats parrot. But Salzman said that “although the assertion that ‘we’re educating them and then sending them home’ is widespread and oft-repeated, there is scant evidence available to accurately assess this claim.” He said the one comprehensive study that actually examined the issue “found there has been no change in the return rate” and “one informal follow up that was done of cases reported in the media found none had, in fact, been compelled to leave because of an inability to obtain a visa.”