OPINION: Immigrants don’t steal jobs, they help create them

Vedant Kulkarni, sophomore in business administration, is the student committee engagement chair for the Student Governing Association. (John Chapple | Collegian Media Group)

I was sitting in a coffee shop here in Manhattan when I overheard some people talking about immigrants coming to America and “stealing American jobs.”

Soon, the conversation took a turn toward international students coming to America and doing the same.

As an international student, I was frustrated with what they were saying. I chose to keep quiet and not make a scene at the cafe.

However, that incident opened my eyes to yet another stereotype held against international students and immigrant students — that we steal jobs.

While I do agree that certain Silicon Valley information technology firms have abused the U.S. work visa program, there have been numerous crackdowns on such crimes. Violators have been fined, and strict actions have been taken against such firms.

But to begin with, the entire notion that international students are stealing jobs cannot be more incorrect. I have experienced how difficult it is to even find a job in the U.S.!

I attended a career fair at Kansas State University a few months ago, and nearly 80 percent of the companies that I spoke with did not sponsor work visas for international students. The remaining corporations that are willing to hire are huge multinational companies, and they have heavy competition when it comes to hiring entry-level employees.

The government restrictions on private companies prohibit them from recruiting foreign talent, even if the student has studied in America. Unfortunately, no attention is paid towards this issue.

As journalist Amy Merrick writes in The Atlantic, “even though a growing number of students in the U.S. are earning bachelor’s degrees in computer science and related fields, they can’t keep pace with the number of jobs available.”

Merrick goes on to say that “CEOs of companies such as Apple, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and PepsiCo sent a letter to the [Department of Homeland Security], saying that making it harder for high-skilled workers to stay in the U.S. will hurt the economy.”

Merrick also mentions that the National Foundation for American Policy has warned that the loss of many international students from STEM fields due to work visa policies would cause science and engineering programs at universities to shrink or disappear. That would leave the U.S. unprepared to compete globally and develop its own workforce.

Many international students come to the U.S. with the hopes of one day becoming an entrepreneur or a research scholar. A majority of international students, if not all, have high goals of doing something innovative, creative and entrepreneurial.

Personally, I wish to one day become an entrepreneur in the field of technologies such as artificial intelligence and digital media. When I chose to study in America, I finally felt that my lifelong dream of becoming an entrepreneur or an industrialist like Ratan Tata or Michael Bloomberg would eventually come true. It seemed to me like nothing was impossible and I could achieve these high goals.

Just like me, numerous international students wish to be an entrepreneur. There have been numerous international students who are now founders of billion-dollar startups and companies.

In an article in Forbes, journalist Stuart Anderson writes that a study published by the National Foundation for American Policy concluded that 21 out of 87 privately held U.S. companies valued at $1 billion or more had a founder who first came to America as an international student.

Forty-four out of these 87 companies had at least one founder who was an immigrant, meaning that nearly half of the immigrant founders were once an international student.

Examples of such successes include Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX, Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, and Amr Awadallah, co-founder of Cloudera. All of these scholars and entrepreneurs came to America as an international student, worked hard, faced numerous difficulties, but ultimately earned their opportunity to live the American dream.

The Association of International Educators (NAFSA) reports that, while international students make up only about 5 percent of overall U.S. college enrollment, they make significant contributions to the U.S. community. NAFSA says international students created or supported over 455,000 U.S. jobs, which is around three jobs for every international student. International students contributed nearly $33 billion to the U.S. economy last year.

NAFSA also reports that in 2016, all six American winners of the Nobel Prizes in economic and scientific fields were immigrants who came to the U.S. as international students.

The K-State Office of International Programs reports that international students in Kansas generated $61.8 million in economic impact and created nearly 800 jobs. These statistics speak for themselves and for the successes of international students in America.

However, in recent years, the number of international students coming to America is declining. K-State itself saw a drop of 26 percent in international enrollment recently.

At the same time, many other developed nations like Canada and Germany saw a rise in international students enrolling in their universities.

CNBC reports that many foreign students are unable to pursue the entrepreneurial dream here in the U.S. These students could even be sent back to their own country because the U.S. immigration policy is making it next to impossible for them to stay.

As a result of its immigration policy, the U.S. experiences the unintended consequence of discarding some of the best, brightest and most talented young people in the world after having spent the past four-plus years educating them.

It is saddening for an international student like me to see that after spending over $100,000 on our education, which is a significantly massive amount in our native countries, we are discouraged from having a fair shot at living the American dream.

It is, therefore, imperative to debunk the myth that international and immigrant students are stealing American jobs. As you can see throughout this column, all the statistics point the other way.

It is vital that my American counterparts understand the reality of the situation and convey this information to American politicians.

International students and immigrants cannot vote, nor do we know who to approach when it comes to these issues. So, it is up to our friends in America to make our voices be heard and ensure that politicians and policy-makers in America know the benefits of having international students in the American workforce.

Republican politician Norm Coleman said “America has a strategic interest in continuing to welcome international students at our colleges, universities and high schools” because “attracting the world’s top scientific scholars helps to keep our economy competitive.”

International students have given their blood, sweat and tears in the hopes of living a different life.

Not all students stay in the U.S. In fact, only a small percentage of us do. But those of us who do, we ensure that we give back to the community and that we make a positive impact on the U.S. culture and economy.

International students leave behind their families to be in this country. We face numerous challenges, visa difficulties, homesickness and pay a substantial amount of monetary fees for our opportunities. I believe we deserve the right to have a decent and equal shot at having a life in America.

Vedant Deepak Kulkarni is a sophomore in business administration. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article referred to the Association of International Educators (NAFSA) as the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers on first reference. This was incorrect.