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What would businesses do if no foreign students could come in the country anymore?

57percent.jpgIn the 02/10/2017 issue, the Boston Globe printed a piece about prospective foreign students and the change in the mood they started to have (see the picture).

As soon as the ban was issued, many industry leaders expressed a strong opposition to it (e.g. http://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinanderton/2017/02/07/the-businesses-against-president-trumps-travel-ban-infographic/#1513a0353867).

On February 5, 2017 several large tech companies filed an Amicus Brief (https://app.box.com/s/09dvucfviag1zlwzekupts084xzc8j5g), which says, in part, that the ban: “makes it more difficult and expensive for U.S. companies to recruit, hire, and retain some of the world’s best employees”.

It is not difficult to understand the worry the businesses and companies have, because a large part of the employment force they have comes from graduates who have foreign origins.

However, when the industry leaders say, that all they want is to be able to have the top talent from all over the world, they do not say the whole truth.

The truth is that currently a large part of the U.S. industry is not just looking for the top talent, but is “addicted” to professionals with a foreign origin, in a similar way it – the industry – was not long time ago addicted to the foreign oil. The truth is that without professionals with a foreign origin many industries would be on a brink of collapsing, or at least of a severe downsizing.

It is not a news that businesses are in a great need for a highly professional workforce. “According to a 2016 survey of 400 employers from across Massachusetts, 75% said that it was difficult to find people with the right skills to hire in Massachusetts.” “Respondents find deficiencies in the readiness of new hires, not just in “applied skills” like teamwork, critical thinking and communications, but also in simple reading, writing, and math.” These were quotes from a 2016 MassINC Polling Group report, done for Massachusetts Business Roundtable (http://www.mbae.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/FINAL-Report-2016-MBAE-Employer-Poll-for-web.pdf).

Businesses have to turn to graduates with a foreign origin simply because U.S. colleges do not produce enough graduates with degrees in STEM-related fields.

“The number of U.S. citizens and permanent residents earning graduate degrees in science and engineering fell 5 percent in 2014 from its peak in 2008. At the same time, the number of students on temporary visas earning the same degrees soared by 35 percent” (from http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-05-17/more-stem-degrees-going-to-foreign-students).

Another report states that “nearly half of PhD aerospace engineers, over 65% of PhD computer scientists, and nearly 80% of PhD industrial and manufacturing engineers were born abroad”


This explains why many industry and business leaders are looking for the ways to lowering barriers for graduates with a student visa preventing them from staying in the U.S.

However, there is no similar attention to the root of the problem, i.e. the low number “of U.S. citizens and permanent residents earning graduate degrees in science and engineering”.

Imagine just for the moment that the Trump administration did find a way to close the borders in such a way that many prospective foreign students got scared and decided not to go in the U.S. Imagine the worst-case scenario; we all know that despite the best efforts there is a chance for a terrorist to conduct a terror attack on the U.S. soil. If that would happen, the general mood in the country could quickly swing toward the toughening all restrictions for crossing the borders.

Without an access to a pool of graduates with a foreign origin, industry and business leaders would have turn to U.S. citizens and permanent residents for filling up many empty professional positions. And then they would find out that U.S. colleges and universities just do not produce the sufficient number of graduates!

And its’ not like no one knew the problem.

Since 1957 (i.e. since the launch of the Sputnik 1) the U.S. system of education has been in a state of a permanent reformation.

The question which industry and business leaders should ask: “Why the Hell after 60 years of reforming education we still cannot rely on our own graduates?” (clearly, in this sentence, to stress my point I used an exaggeration).

It is one thing, if you have 100 vacancies, and you have 100 applicants of a foreign origin, and 100 “domestic” applicants. In this case – yes – you are searching for the best talent. But when you have 100 vacancies, 100 applicants of a foreign origin, and 0 qualified “domestic” applicants – it is a clear sign that the system is broken.

Obviously, we have to make a conclusion that so far the methods used at all levels of the government and philanthropy to reform education have not worked. If those methods have not worked for such a long period of time, there is not much of a hope they will miraculously start working tomorrow.

Maybe, industry and business leaders should not wait until the hypothetical border tightening becomes real, and start rethinking their strategies and approaches related to education, because otherwise the shortage in the highly professional workforce can bring a heavy damage to the U.S. economy.

We must make U.S. intellectually independent from importing foreign professionals. We need to treat intellectual health of a country with the same level of urgency we treat physical health of the country. We need to set a goal: to break the U.S. dependence on the foreign intellectuals (in the way the U.S. has become practically independent from the foreign oil). Only then we can say that the U.S. companies truly search for the best talent.


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