Bernie Burrola, APLU's Vice President for International, Community, and Economic Engagement, testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety on Tuesday. The hearing was timed ahead the tenth anniversary of the creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which APLU recognized this week. A recording the hearing is available here and his written testimony is available here.
Burrola’s testimony primarily focused on the contributions international students bring to the U.S. and the challenges we face in reversing the U.S.'s decline in international student enrollment. Burrola called for congressional action to expedite F-1 visas, open pathways for work permits and residency, and support a pathway for citizenship for undocumented and DACA-mented students.
Burrola’s oral remarks are pasted below.
Chairman Padilla, Ranking Member Cornyn, and members of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety:
I am deeply honored to be with you today and to have the opportunity to describe the immense contributions made by international and undocumented students to the United States and its public universities.
International students help our society thrive, innovate, and generate new businesses and technologies, which improves the lives of all Americans.
This starts when international students are still enrolled, enriching the classroom discussion and college experience for domestic students while interacting and forming ties with Americans that last well beyond their years at university.
They also generate huge economic activity in our local communities. Last year, international students contributed over $30 billion to our economy through tuition payments, rent, and paying for living expenses.
And after graduation, they continue to contribute through the development of innovation and by founding companies that hire Americans. International students have founded nearly a quarter of all billion-dollar startups in the U.S.
Imagine where we would be without these contributions. Now, imagine where we could be if we made attracting and retaining global talent a centerpiece of U.S. economic and foreign policy strategy.
Unfortunately, we are experiencing a steady decline in both domestic and international student enrollment at U.S. universities. Today, there are over a million fewer domestic students enrolled in college than just three years ago.
And at the graduate level, the U.S. simply does not produce enough domestic talent to meet the needs of our workforce.
International students comprise well over half of all enrolled graduate students in disciplines such as engineering, computer and informational sciences, statistics, economics, mathematics and applied math.
It’s critical that we continue to educate – and retain – the world’s brightest minds to maintain our competitive edge, while we also work on inspiring domestic students to pursue STEM fields.
But enrolling more international students is increasingly challenging. In the last five years, international student enrollment in the U.S. dropped by 21 percent.
While the pandemic accounts for some of this decline, the negative trend began years earlier. During the three-year period prior to the pandemic, the U.S. experienced a 7% decline in international students while other countries saw double digit increases. The United Kingdom increased their international student enrollment by 23 percent, Australia by 45 percent, and Canada by 52 percent. Our losses are others’ gains.
Unlike the U.S., these countries have successfully implemented national strategies to attract more international students. While each national strategy may differ, they all include five key components:
International students often decide where to study based on the opportunities they will have to live and work in a country following graduation.
Here is where we are failing. There simply are not close to enough employment-based green cards to meet our workforce needs.
Our ability to attract top talent to work and innovate is directly a function of our post-graduation visa policies. An advanced degree in STEM should be a ticket to a green card, giving certainty to students and employers and fostering a greater environment for innovation.
Another important factor for prospective international is the ease and timeliness of obtaining a student visa. Once again, the U.S. is failing to compete. Australia and Canada can process a student visa in weeks while it can take months to over a year just to obtain an interview appointment at a U.S. Consulate.
And the U.S. still penalizes prospective students in the visa process if they express an intent to stay in the U.S. after graduation.
Our immigration law is the only one we know of that you are welcome to come study, but you can’t stay.
It is therefore critical that Congress extends “dual intent” to international students during the visa application process. By doing so, international students would no longer be denied a student visa merely for expressing interest in staying and contributing to the U.S. post-graduation.
The economic imperative for attracting and retaining international students is clear. When it comes to undocumented students, we have an economic and a moral imperative.
Public universities see firsthand the spirit of undocumented students, their drive and determination to build their futures and those of their families and contribute to their home communities and country. For many, they were brought to the United States at such an early age they can remember no other country as home. They are Americans in every way except citizenship
They also contribute to our country.
A quarter of DACA recipients are essential workers, and 30,000 are health care workers, including my fellow witness here today. If DACA were to end, the economy would lose 22,000 jobs per month. Despite these important contributions, undocumented and DACA recipients remain in an untenable situation.
With appropriate action to attract and retain talented international students and protect undocumented students, the U.S. can take giant leaps as well as live up to the values and opportunities that have long made our nation special. I thank the Subcommittee for the opportunity to provide testimony. I look forward to your questions. Thank you.