Because I liked it, I’m publishing my oft-reserved-for-print column here.
The Salem Leader
Generation Why – Column
You like wine and pie, right?
Hold on to your wigs and keys everyone, America has a new congress. The 113th, to be exact, so I think I speak for everyone when I say now’s a good time to be superstitious.
There’s a lot Congress should, and needs, to take up. One of which has particularly grated on my nerves lately: immigration reform. I’m not talking about Mexicans supposedly leaping over fences along the US-Mexico border to take our high-paying leaf blower jobs. I’m talking about the idiotic policy this country takes that fights against itself.
Imagine this scenario: you’re out with a friend and your friend says, “Hey, why don’t you come over to dinner later? I’ll make soup.” And you say, “Hey, that sounds great. I’ll bring some wine and dessert for us, too!” And you’re all set. So you go over to your friend’s house later that evening with a nice bottle of wine and a freshly made pie. Your friend welcomes you in, you enjoy some soup, and once you both finish the main course, your friend turns to you and says, “Okay, that was great, but you have to leave now. And take your wine and pie with you.”
That is exactly what this country does when it comes to foreign students who come to America to study in our top-notch schools, both public and private. American taxpayers have helped subsidize and build the greatest higher education system anywhere in the world. It’s not without its problems (high costs being a big one), but there’s no denying an American education is far and above almost every other school in the world with only a few exceptions, like Oxford in England.
US schools already put hard caps on foreign student enrollment, saving most of the top spots for American students. But foreign students, like some I’ve met lately from Taiwan, Thailand, and South Korea, have gone through insane amounts of red tape and Passport-and-Visa-Wrangling to get here. Now that they’re here, they’re studying in US schools, often with subsidies like their American peers, or sometimes paying full sticker price, for an education that’s uniquely American. And they’re doing good work, too, working with groundbreaking research to save lives here and abroad from disease and illness that plagues us all.
But once they’re finished with their degree, they can sometimes find work to remain in the US, but often they find it nearly impossible to find a sponsor to stay here, especially when the school is tapped out on researchers and graduate-level jobs. This means a 20-something individual who is at the top of their home country’s rankings (and our’s) gets sent back home with advanced degrees in science, medicine, technology, and engineering. In most cases, their home country doesn’t have the ability to support their career with jobs, infrastructure, or the kind of salary they rightfully deserve. If they can, they’re effectively competing against the US by earning patents, awards, and research accolades “someplace else”. It’d be like if we invaded Afghanistan and before we fought the Taliban, we invited them to enroll in West Point and once they finished, they could go back to fight against us.
At this point, we don’t get to sit around confused as to how India’s siphoning off technology jobs from America, or how China’s able to churn out engineers using lessons learned here in America. We did this to ourselves and we continue to punch ourselves in the face.
When most people hear “Immigration Reform” they hear “Mexicans taking our jobs”, which isn’t supported by the numbers. It is fair, however, to say that Mexicans come into the country and because of their illegal status they fail to pay all the taxes they otherwise could and they do become, to some extent, a net drain on the country. But it’s just as bad on the other end of the spectrum.
Why would it be so difficult for the US to enact legislation that made an advanced Masters degree or PhD an automatic enrollment as an American citizen? “Want to come to America to study in our schools? Great, come on in, and when you finish, we’d like you to stay.” Effectively, we’re tossing people out with their wine and dessert after we’ve spent the time giving them our soup. It makes no sense and on some level it’s rude. As if this country couldn’t use more doctors or engineers. And you can’t say they’d be taking away jobs from Americans. At what point does anyone with, say, a medical degree not get a job in medicine? What are we afraid of? Shorter wait times at the doctor’s office?
Dealing with Mexicans here illegally is an issue in itself. However, surely we can grant citizenship with the achievement of one of our own highly-valued degrees (and even service in our armed forces). We already made the soup, let’s not cheat ourselves out of a nice glass of wine and some pie. Someone’s going to eat that pie, it might as well be us.