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International scholars make lasting contributions to the US: report

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International students in the US make influential economic contributions to the country. A recent report by the American Physical Society (APS) Office of Government Affairs sheds more details on how international students and graduates bring near- and long-term benefit to the country, especially in the case of international scholars. 

Their new report — “How International Students and Researchers Benefit the United States: Their Experiences, Their Stories” — notes that OPT and the J-1 visa programme have yielded positive outcomes for the US, even in instances when foreign-born scholars decide to return to their home countries. 

“In both cases, international researchers become part of the US R&D network, often creating long-standing collaborations. Today, more than 70% of foreign-born students who obtain doctorate degrees in S&T fields from US institutions are still working in the US 10 years after completing their degrees,” said the report. 

Foreign-born scholars who pursue a career in the US create job opportunities for Americans, apply their research skills that benefit both citizens and non-citizens alike, and publish research that have been cited by other scientists around the world.

Some international graduate students who pursue a career in academia in the US go on to supervise other PhD students, such as in the case of Glenn Starkman, who came to the country as a PhD student at Stanford on a J-1 visa. 

Starkman is the chair of the Physics Department at Case Western Reserve University where he supervises dozens of PhD and postdoctoral scholars, and has experienced first-hand the benefit of international students and postdocs who work under him. 

“Several have gone on to become professors at elite US institutions, including at MIT, University of Pennsylvania, and University of Michigan. Others work productively in industry,” he was quoted saying by the report. “By extending a J-1 visa to Starkman, the US established a magnet that attracted international talent that helps sustain US global scientific leadership.

The report also found that even if international scholars return to their country, they have contributed ideas, techniques and guidance that provide lasting benefit within the US scientific enterprise.

“The conclusion of all these stories is inescapable: Optional Practical Training (OPT) and the J-1 visa programme are essential to future US economic competitiveness,” notes the report.

The US has long been a popular study abroad destination among international students, but enrolments have been on the decline in recent years under the Trump administration’s hostile policies towards foreign students. International students in the US face growing uncertainty about their ability to stay in the country and in securing post-graduation positions for their OPT, which allows them to seek employment in the US after graduation.

According to the Brookings Institution, international students constitute over 5% of enrolment in the majority of states in the US; that share is especially high in DC and Massachusetts. Nationwide, the amount of tuition plus required fees from international students amount to US$2.5 billion.

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