On June 14, 2022, Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) held a hearing designed to create momentum for legislation to attract international students, make U.S. companies more competitive and protect young people who came to America as children without legal status. The hearing made a case for the employment-based immigration changes contained in the COMPETES Act being discussed in a House-Senate conference and a permanent solution for recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
Senator Padilla’s Opening Statement: Senator Padilla, chair of the Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety, used his opening statement to argue for improving U.S. laws so more international students could stay in America after graduating from U.S. universities. “At colleges and universities across our country, enrollment of international students is falling,” said Senator Padilla.
“Between 2016 and 2019, international student enrollment dropped 7% at U.S. universities but increased 52% at Canadian colleges and universities,” according to a recent National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) analysis. The numbers were cited several times during the hearing.
“Potential international students are increasingly questioning whether it is worth it to come and study in the United States if there is no path for them to stay and to work after graduation,” said Senator Padilla. “Meanwhile, other countries—who compete with us for economic and political leadership—are making it more attractive for international students to come to their universities and stay after graduation. They’re more than eager to recruit the students who are no longer coming to the United States. And why wouldn’t they be?”
Senator Padilla also argued for Congress to enact legislative protections for DACA recipients. “Tomorrow marks the ten-year anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA,” he said. “DACA has helped hundreds of thousands of young immigrants pursue their dreams, their American dreams, while contributing to their communities, and strengthening our economy.
“But from day one, DACA was never intended as a permanent solution. And it has left hundreds of thousands of young people and their families in limbo. We urgently need to expand DACA and codify permanent protections, for Dreamers, into federal law.”
The Case For International Students: At the hearing, in his prepared statement and during questions and answers, Bernard A. Burrola, vice president for international, community, and economic engagement at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), presented the case for international students. He discussed the benefits international students bring to U.S. students by subsidizing the tuition of American students, making more classes available and providing a window to the rest of the world. He noted the high proportion of international students in graduate-level science and engineering fields and the significant percentage of international students who have become founders of billion-dollar companies, citing NFAP research.
“As Congress works to reconcile differences between the United States Innovation and Competition Act (S.1260) and the America COMPETES Act of 2022 (H.R. 4521), APLU urges Congress to retain and strengthen STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) immigration provisions in the House bill that increase U.S. competitiveness for international talent and would turbocharge innovation and competitiveness,” said Burrola. “To fully implement the research and innovation provisions of the legislation, the U.S. will require both domestic and international STEM talent. . . . Yet, we continue to deny opportunities to work, innovate, and start businesses to many foreign-born, U.S.-educated STEM advanced degree holders. Each talented graduate of a U.S. university that leaves for a country with friendlier immigration policies represents a self-inflicted economic wound and a loss to our national interest.”
The Case For DACA: By telling her personal story, Dalia Larios made a convincing argument for DACA legislation. At 10 years old, Dalia arrived in America from Mexico with her parents, but without legal status. “As the eldest and only undocumented child in my family, I worried my parents would be detained by ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and never come home,” she said. “I worried I would also be taken away and separated from my three younger siblings.”
Dalia graduated with honors from high school but did not know if she could attend college. Some schools would not accept Dalia because of her status. In Arizona, she could not pay in-state tuition. With the help of private sponsors, she was able to attend and graduate from Arizona State University.
“Soon after graduation in June 2012, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, was created,” she said. “Because of DACA, I was able to take a gap year to work and earn money to afford the medical school application process. Even as I took the MCAT and paid application fees, I didn’t know what schools would consider my application, or how I would afford the cost of medical education. Undeterred, I applied to medical school and after an anxious interview cycle, I became the first DACA recipient accepted to Harvard Medical School. In 2019, I obtained my medical degree and graduated with honors.”
Today, she is a doctor completing her residency training at the Harvard Radiation Oncology Program, where she cares for cancer patients at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
The Republican Witness: In her testimony, former GOP Congresswoman Mia Love echoed the statements of the two other witnesses. Love provided a contrast to the Republican witnesses called at House Judiciary Committee hearings over the past year and a half. Those witnesses have included people who disparaged foreign-born individuals and immigration categories, have written in favor of new immigration restrictions in a socialist publication, which some might find ironic, given that House Republicans have accused Democrats of socialism, and others to whom several House Republicans on the panel have asked questions aimed at eliciting anti-immigration statements.
Mia Love spoke about her Haitian parents who immigrated to the United States. “With courage, faith, and grit, they showed me that the American Dream was possible. I would not be who I am today if they hadn’t made the brave choice to join this great nation, like so many immigrants before them.”
She advocated for increasing the number of H-1B temporary visas, which would help many more international students stay in the United States after graduation. “Research suggests that the expansion of high-skilled immigration will boost economic growth, expand American businesses, and provide more opportunities for the most disadvantaged Americans,” said Love. She also supported a solution for DACA recipients and improvements to U.S. asylum laws.
Love is the national outreach director at The Center for Growth and Opportunity at Utah State University. The organization produced two economic studies making the empirical case for expanding high-skilled immigration. Kent State Economics Professor Omid Bagheri found foreign-born high-skilled visa holders earn a significant salary premium over comparable natives and that the findings “would suggest that easing immigration rules for such workers may be very helpful to the U.S. economy and even prevent companies from moving jobs overseas.” In another study, economist Morgan Raux concluded H-1B visa holders are not “cheap labor” and “policymakers should see visa programs like the H-1B visa as a way for the U.S. to recruit ‘the best and brightest’ workers, not as replacements for U.S. native workers.”
Senators Booker, Blackburn, Cornyn and Durbin: At the hearing, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) sounded like an economist when he explained that immigrants increase the supply of labor but also increase the demand for labor as entrepeneurs and through their spending as consumers. He advocated for changing the law to make it easier for international students to remain in the United States and work after graduation.
Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) asked APLU’s Bernard Burrola what universities do to protect against the theft of intellectual property. He said research universities take the issue seriously and work with the FBI to help safeguard intellectual property. Senator Blackburn did not seem wholly convinced and raised concerns about Chinese government efforts on U.S. campuses. However, her tone was measured, and she agreed with Burrola that the United States would not want to lose the benefits it receives from foreign-born researchers.
Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) said he has supported employment-based immigration for many years and understands the shortcomings in the current system for retaining international students. He also pointed to what he sees as the political reality: It is difficult to pass any immigration measures so long as lawmakers are concerned about the southern border.
Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), a long-time advocate for legislation to protect young people from deportation, spent several minutes speaking with Dalia Larios about the negative impact on the lives of DACA recipients if Congress does not provide a long-term solution. However, his most interesting remarks were about the need for temporary work visas to prevent illegal immigration.
Discussing the border, Senator Durbin noted that asylum is one way for people to enter the United States legally, “but the other is work visas.” He said, “We hear it every day, by the millions, people asking for more workers . . . We hear it from every business we talk to, the restaurants, the hotels, people who own the orchards and fields where the crops are growing. They desperately need workers.
“We ought to have a process, and I think we can agree on it, for people to come and work legally in the country with certain restrictions on how long they can stay and what their situation is. But if that process were in place, I think we might have fewer showing up in mob scenes at the border.”
A sufficient number of work visas would help prevent illegal immigration. As Senator Cornyn noted, that would make it easier to pass other legislation, such as bills to protect DACA recipients and attract international students.