First, we lose the kind of personal drive that built this country: the life force of brilliant young people with the courage and ambition to leave everything familiar in search of a better future. What’s more, most students who come here to earn a Ph.D. stay to build their families and careers, and often companies that create thousands of jobs. Many become citizens.
The latest data shows, for example, that 83 percent of Ph.D. students from China, the kind of highly trained scientists and engineers who drive American innovation, were still in the United States five years after completing their degrees.
MIT and Harvard Sue Trump Over F-1 Visa International Students | NowThis
The percentage would be higher if longstanding U.S. policies did not require many students to return home after finishing their education — a system as counterproductive as training a great player and then insisting that she go play for a rival team. Recently, the percentage of doctoral graduates remaining here has begun to decline, in part because our national message is that they are not welcome.
As some in Washington have sought to limit foreign students, especially those from China, that hostile message has grown louder.
Of course the United States must screen students seeking visas and keep out those with dubious backgrounds. But even the fiercest China hawks acknowledge that when foreign interests engage in espionage or intellectual theft, they seek to recruit senior scientists; only a small number of Chinese students have been implicated in such cases. The vast majority we should welcome, not discourage with the blunt hostility apparent in recent policies.
I believe profoundly that we must increase the number of Americans pursuing training in science and engineering. But we must also understand that America’s strength in science and engineering is central to America’s strength, period — and that a core element of that strength, for decades, has been our ability to lure the world’s finest talent.
This country derives many intangible advantages from being a beacon of hope for people around the world; I first came to America in 1974 from Venezuela, where my parents finally settled as refugees from Hitler’s Europe. I came to improve my own prospects through a graduate degree. But I found a culture of openness, boldness, ingenuity and meritocracy — a culture which taught me that in coming to America, I had truly come home.
The following letter was sent to the MIT community today by President L. Rafael Reif.
To the members of the MIT community,
I am delighted to join you in taking pleasure in the news that the federal government just rescinded the July 6th policy from Immigration and Customs Enforcement that would have prohibited many international students from studying in the United States if – as was likely at many institutions, in response to the pandemic – their classes would be fully online. For our international students, and thus for all of us, this comes as an enormous relief.
Since we joined Harvard in pressing a lawsuit against the original directive last week, I have been inspired by the outpouring of support and action from higher education and other organizations, including dozens of U.S. states. I was especially moved by the involvement of our own students, including those who contributed their personal stories to the legal effort and those who organized a national coalition of students in filing a brief. You show us what it means to be One MIT.
“The larger battle is far from over. This misguided policy was one of many signals that the administration wants foreign students to stay away,” MIT President L. Rafael Reif in the @NYTimes. https://t.co/ClLxeYahrn
— Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) (@MIT) July 15, 2020
I am also immensely grateful to Harvard University President Larry Bacow ’72 for his leadership, and to all the colleges and universities who signed court briefs in support of our suit.
My great respect and gratitude also go to Vice President and General Counsel Mark DiVincenzo and his Office of General Counsel colleagues Dahlia Fetouh and Anthony Moriello, who worked around the clock to make such a powerful case, and to all the staff who helped our international students handle this long week of painful uncertainty. And my thanks to everyone who reached out to help or spoke up in support of our students.
It’s deeply encouraging that this case has inspired so much reflection about and enthusiastic recognition of the vital role international students play in academic communities across the United States – and absolutely at MIT.
This case also made clear that real lives are at stake in these “bureaucratic” matters, with the potential for real harm. We need to approach policy making, especially now, with more humanity, more decency – not less.
When we joined this suit with Harvard, we knew our case was strong, and we are pleased with this outcome. But we also stand ready to protect our students from any further arbitrary policies.
With gratitude and appreciation,
L. Rafael Reif