Beyond the moral duty or biblical mandate to welcome immigrants, the Biden White House is touting the economic and intellectual benefits of allowing immigration.
The White House said it will introduce sweeping initiatives to recruit and keep international talent to boost the U.S. economy and keep the nation globally competitive in the fields of global science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“Today, the departments of State and Homeland Security are announcing new actions to advance predictability and clarity for pathways for international STEM scholars, students, researchers and experts to contribute to innovation and job creation efforts across America,” the White House announced Jan. 21. “These actions will allow international STEM talent to continue to make meaningful contributions to America’s scholarly, research and development, and innovation communities.”
The news came a day after President Joe Biden observed the one-year anniversary of his presidency and during a week when immigration advocates praised his progress on immigration issues and criticized his failures.
“These actions will allow international STEM talent to continue to make meaningful contributions to America’s scholarly, research and development, and innovation communities.”
Early reaction to the White House STEM announcement included acknowledgment that immigrants play a crucial role in the U.S. economy through science and technology.
“Attracting global talent — and building a welcoming environment for the immigrants who bring it — is key to retaining our economic competitiveness and ensuring our national security,” said Ali Noorani, president and CEO of the National Immigration Forum. “When we allow international students to build a life here, we allow not just communities but ideas and innovations to flourish.”
The Forum added that “education remains a significant economic boon to the U.S. As of 2020, international students contributed $41 billion to the economy each year (not including an additional $10 billion to the economy in spending outside of tuition) and are responsible for supporting more than 458,000 jobs.”
The administration highlighted the benefits of its new policy for all Americans.
“In the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) — fields that are critical to the prosperity, security and health of our nation — our history is filled with examples of how America’s ability to attract global talent has spurred path-breaking innovation. This innovation has led to the creation of new jobs, new industries and new opportunities for Americans across the United States. Our commitment as a nation to welcoming new talent has long provided America with a global competitive advantage, and we must continue to lead in this effort,” the White House statement said.
The president previously emphasized the importance of STEM in competing economically and technically on the global stage.
“America is moving forward, but we can’t stop now. We’re in competition with China and other countries to win the 21st century. We’re at a great inflection point in history,” Biden said in April. “We have to do more than just build back better.… We have to compete more strenuously than we have.”
An August 2021 study by Georgetown University confirmed the urgent situation facing the United States in its STEM competition with China.
“Based on current enrollment patterns, we project that by 2025 Chinese universities will produce more than 77,000 STEM Ph.D. graduates per year compared to approximately 40,000 in the United States. If international students are excluded from the U.S. count, Chinese STEM Ph.D. graduates would outnumber their U.S. counterparts more than three to one,” according to the report.
The study added that immigrants who have attained STEM education in the United States historically have chosen to remain in the U.S. after graduation, but that may be changing.
“By comparison, China attracts relatively few international students, and it is unclear how many international Ph.D. graduates from Chinese universities stay in China upon graduation. However, as bottlenecks in the U.S. immigration system worsen and international competition for talent increases, it remains to be seen whether the United States can maintain its strategic advantage by continuing to attract and retain as many international STEM Ph.D.s in the years ahead,” the Georgetown researchers said.
Provisions of the president’s plan include enabling STEM experts remain in the U.S. for extra training through waivers and expanded application eligibilities. It also will make O-1A non-immigrant status — a visa for candidates with extraordinary ability and achievement — more accessible.
The fields of study included in the plan also are being expanded, the White House said.
“Department of Homeland Security Secretary (Alejandro) Mayorkas is announcing that 22 new fields of study are now included in the STEM Optional Practical Training program through the Student and Exchange Visitor Program. The program permits F-1 (visa) students earning bachelors, masters and doctorates in certain STEM fields to remain in the United States for up to 36 months to complete Optional Practical Training after earning their degrees.”