Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said in a nationally televised interview that issuing F-1 visas to Chinese students to allow them to pursue “quantum computing degrees” is a self-defeating exercise. Studying Shakespeare and the Federalist papers would be okay with Cotton, a Harvard J.D. graduate, U.S. Army captain and Afghanistan war veteran. But educating Chinese nationals who become, as Cotton said, so many of the Chinese Communist Party’s “brightest minds” is “a scandal.”
Cotton’s comments set off a firestorm of criticism. The Washington Post wrote a scathing editorial that strongly rejected Cotton’s proposal; the Internet was abuzz with harsh retorts to limiting F-1 visas to Chinese students.
However, the facts support Cotton whose suggestion is actually too limited. The 2019 Open Doors Report on International Education released by the Institute of International Education and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs showed that 872,214 overseas students were enrolled during the 2017-2018 academic year, while another 223,085 were in Optional Practical Training programs (OPT). Chinese nationals comprised 369,548 of the 872,214 international students; India ranked second with 202,014 enrollees.
OPT’s history is a sad lament of a greed that leaves Americans on the unemployment line. At an elitist Georgetown cocktail party years ago, multi-billionaire Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates whined to then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, his globalist friend, that the tech industry suffered from insufficient H-1B workers.
Congress couldn’t be swayed to lift the H-1B 85,000 cap, so tech lobbyists concocted the OPT scheme that allowed science, technology, math and engineering students to remain in the U.S. and take jobs that otherwise would go to Americans. Bottom line: without congressional approval, OPT which originates with the F-1 visa has, in recent years, ballooned into a major U.S. tech worker job displacer.
In 2017, Amazon hired about 2,400 OPT foreign-born workers, and placed them in white-collar jobs that should have gone to Americans. Amazon’s preference for OPT workers is easily explained: DHS data found that Amazon earned nearly $25 million in tax breaks by employing foreign workers. And since the long-ago Georgetown soiree, the self-serving Gates’ net worth has doubled from $50 billion to $100 billion, while thousands of OPTs have bumped U.S. tech workers from their jobs.
Many of the foreign-born OPT students matriculate at public universities like the University of California’s Davis, San Diego, Berkeley and Irvine campuses. In 2016, Chinese students made up 34 percent of that year’s Berkeley admissions. Penn State, Michigan State and Iowa State universities are also among international students’ preferred destinations. PSU, MSU and ISU are land-grant schools, state taxpayer-funded institutions specifically for local citizen-residents’ advancement in the agriculture, science, military science and engineering disciplines. At no time since President Abraham Lincoln signed the 1862 Morrill Act that ceded federally controlled land to the universities has the legislation designated that international students be admitted while rejecting U.S. citizens.
Foreign student high enrollment means that qualified U.S. high school graduates are shut out, an inarguable fact. Only a fixed number of freshman seats are available each academic year, and Americans must have the first priority.
Universities are the major culprit in the steadily soaring international admissions injustice. The Wall Street Journal reported that aggressive recruiting abroad has led to a 79 percent international enrollment increase over the last decade, and has created a financial bonanza for the universities. At UC Berkeley, for example, in 2020 undergraduate fees and tuition was $14,253 for residents; out-of-state, $44,000, more than three-times what locals pay.
The F-1 visa was originally intended to provide overseas students with an opportunity to obtain a quality U.S. education. Upon graduation, the students were expected to return to their native countries and apply the skills they learned in the U.S. to improve their home nations. Instead, the F-1 visa has devolved into a job-eating force that’s ballooned out of control. Moreover, and to Cotton’s point, the federal government has no ability to track international students after they arrive. Many of them routinely vanish. An alarmed FBI has urged universities to review ongoing research involving Chinese students and researchers whose academic pursuits could have defense applications.
Cotton’s call to restrict F-1 visas to Chinese nationals is a good start. But Cotton needs to include other countries like India whose presence denies education and employment opportunities to deserving Americans. Congress won’t give Cotton much support, if any. President Trump needs to intercede with an executive order.