The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) just released a new report on international students in the United States. It reports that in 2014 there were more than 1.1 million foreign students being tracked in the Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVIS). Those students were studying on an F or M visa (academic or technical program). In addition, there were more than 200,000 foreigners being tracked in SEVIS as exchange visitors (J visa).
This number of students is much higher than the information on international students that previously was available in the Open Doors report of the Institute for International Education (IIE), That organization’s current report for the 2013/2014 school year lists 886,052 students. The difference is likely due to the inclusion of the M-visa students in the DHS report.
U.S. state schools actively seek international students because they generally pay full tuition and both public and private schools assert that foreign students provide an enhanced academic environment and greater diversity. The foreign students are attracted to U.S. schools because of excellent academic credentials and, often it seems, as an entry into the U.S. job market. The transition from foreign student to U.S. resident can be seamless. The F-visa holder graduates and takes a U.S. job while in Optional Practical Training status or directly as a non-immigrant worker sponsored for a temporary worker visa (H). That status may last for six or more years during which the employer may sponsor the foreign worker for an immigrant visa.
More than half of the million immigrant visas currently issued each year are to persons already in the country. In 2013 DHS data reported that more than 160,000 immigrant admissions went to employer sponsored workers. About 88 percent of them were already in the United States.
The numbers suggest that there are many foreign students who earn a U.S. degree who do not succeed in gaining U.S. residence. This may explain the fact that there has been a growing number of persons entering the country on visas – such as F, M, or J visas – who ignore the law requiring their departure at the end of their legal stay and join the illegal alien population. The numbers also indicate why universities as well as employers lobby policymakers to increase the number of work visas available. The universities benefit in their recruitment of foreign students from the perception that a U.S. university education is a ticket into the U.S. job market, and U.S. companies benefit from a workforce of temporary foreign workers beholden to them for their sponsorship of an immigrant visa.
The new DHS report includes a curious statistic. In addition to the number of students being tracked in SEVIS, it records 2,330,274 students who have, “finished their program of study and intends on/already has returned to their home country.” The implication is that they are no longer in the United States in a valid visa status, but DHS does not know whether they have left the country.
To the extent that universities are unrestricted in the number of foreign students they may enroll, they are granted a major roll driving increases in both legal and illegal immigration.