We’ve received what seems to be a daily dose of misery in the form of misinformation about immigrants and immigration for well over a year now. As intended, those messages appear to have left their mark. International student enrollment is down, while at the same time hate crimes, hate speech and fear is up. Is there a connection?
I’m not here to address the relentless negative rhetoric on immigration or why it exists. Rather, I offer you facts, because facts don’t lie. Here’s one: immigrants are good for America.
Why would we think otherwise? Our nation was built by immigrants, and if America wants to continue to be a world leader, particularly in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), we need to acknowledge the positive impact and contributions made by immigrants and continue to do what we can to attract them to our country and welcome them into our communities.
Indeed, fully 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants and children of immigrants. These companies, which employ millions of Americans, include Kraft 22,000 employees), pharmaceutical giant Pfizer (97,900 employees), Google (53,000 employees), Tesla (18,000 employees), and Bell Telephone and AT&T (330,000 employees). There are many other examples, including Intel, Chobani, eBay, Yahoo, YouTube, Uber, Instagram, Dropbox, Proctor & Gamble, and DuPont, which collectively employ millions of Americans. These examples are just a drop in the bucket. Notably, it’s not just these “big name” companies that immigrants have founded. Immigrants are also scientists, researchers, engineers, and individuals in many other professions, all of whom are contributing positively to America right now, at this very moment.
Many of the immigrants who have made incredible contributions to the U.S. first arrived here as international students on F-1 visas to pursue an education in a STEM field. Maybe the topics of science, technology, engineering and math don’t personally interest you, or you don’t think these subjects impact you, but I’ll bet you’d agree that safe pharmaceuticals, research to wipe out diseases, and secure roads and highways all interest you, as do the latest electronics, gadgets, Google, Yahoo, and a million other tech items and ideas. So, the fact is, immigrants have made and continue to make incredible contributions, which the U.S. simply cannot miss out on if it desires to continue to be a world leader.
Here’s another fact or two: In the 2015–2016 academic year, international students studying in the U.S. contributed $32.8 billion dollars to our economy and supported 400,000 jobs. This hefty amount is attributed to the cost of tuition, books, fees, health insurance (F-1 students must provide their own health insurance), housing, utilities, food, transportation, entertainment, travel to and from their home countries, sales and property taxes, and a host of other expenses, purchases and payments. Thus, not only are international students not a drain on our economy and resources, they actually contribute billions of dollars to our economy—just by virtue of attending a university or college in the U.S.
Sadly, the number of innovators, would-be entrepreneurs, and rocket scientists who have been coming to the U.S. as international students is dropping. Much of the decline can be attributed to two very unfortunate reasons: many of these students do not feel welcome or safe in the U.S.
Attending a college or university in the U.S. is a tremendous financial investment for an international student and their parents, that’s a given. But there’s another sacrifice made by foreign students when they opt to study in the U.S.: these students leave behind their families and friends, often for years at a time. Paying for an international flight halfway across the world, even once a year, would be financially unfeasible for most students. As such, some only visit their home countries once during their tenure here as students. These students leave their homes knowing they won’t spend major holidays with their families, celebrate birthdays, or toast weddings together for years. Similarly, parents send their children halfway around the world, trusting another country to welcome them, educate them, and protect them. So, in addition to the financial investment that international students make in order to study in the U.S., the emotional investment must be taken into account. You can bet that the parents of these students, the best and the brightest from their home countries, are taking note of the uptick in crimes and attacks on immigrants and the hateful rhetoric in the news and on the internet, and are feeling that their children won’t be safe or welcome here.
Why should we care? We should care because education is a commodity and there’s a global market out there. Many nations around the world are competing with the U.S. to attract the cream of the crop in terms of students, innovators, and job creators. Whether we are driving these innovators and job creators away by making them feel unwelcome, or driving them away by making them feel unsafe, this needs to stop. Our shared prosperity is increased if we welcome international students. So let’s make America great for international students again by helping foreign students feel welcome and safe in our communities and across the United States.