This past November, President Obama held a ceremony to honor the 2014 recipients of the National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. In his speech, Obama really zeroed in on the fact that some of the honorees are immigrants, spending far more time on that topic than in his brief remarks on science funding and U.S. STEM education, and calling on legislation to avoid “[sending] them home after they graduate.”
That was highly misleading. Through a combination of visas and policies (discussed by me elsewhere), they do stay. In my long experience with foreign grad students, both in my own department and elsewhere, I’ve never known a single case of a foreign STEM student who wanted to stay in the U.S. but ultimately was not able to do so. Surely there must be some exceptions, but they are rare.
But what is far more misleading about the president’s remarks is that his implied numbers don’t compute. Only 3 of the 18 awardees are immigrants, about 17%. Contrast that to the much-vaunted numbers shouted by the tech industry lobbyists, e.g. the fact that over 50% of computer science PhDs awarded by U.S. universities are earned by international students.
In other words, the foreign students are underperforming.
I’ve stated repeatedly that I strongly support facilitating the immigration of “the best and the brightest” from around the world, and that I have personally acted on that conviction. For example, just recently I urged a Silicon Valley startup to hire a highly creative student I know from China.
But the vast majority of foreign STEM students are just not in that league. On the contrary, at least in the computer science field, they are on average of lower quality than their American peers. And since even my stridently pro-immigration UC Davis colleague Giovanni Peri concedes that in various ways the foreign STEM students displace the Americans, we’ve got a frightening tradeoff here: We are replacing more talented people by less talented ones, a disaster for our economy and national well-being.
Yet Obama, and many in Congress, want to give free rides to the foreign students, with unlimited numbers of work visas and green cards — without any regard to quality at all. It’s an absurd policy.