‘Vanished’ Foreigners in U.S. on Student Visas Raise IT Job Concerns

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    According to a report last week by ABC News, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has confirmed that it has lost track of more than 6,000 foreign nationals who have come to this country on student visas, and who have now “essentially vanished.” In view of the large number of foreign students who come to the United States to study IT-related disciplines, the disclosure raises the question of how many of those former students may be filling IT jobs here.

    The ABC News report pointed out that there are more than 9,000 schools on a government-approved list of institutions that can bring foreigners into the United States on student visas. Particularly disturbing is that one of the approved schools is MicroPower Career Institute in New York, which reportedly has four campuses on the approved list, despite the fact that the school’s president and four other top school officials were indicted on charges of visa fraud in May. According to MicroPower’s website, programs offered by the school include computer networking and computerized business accounting.

    Vivek Wadhwa, director of research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering, and a vocal advocate of attracting skilled foreign workers to the United States and keeping them here, said in an email exchange last week that the situation reported by ABC News is “truly worrisome.”

    “The number of students doing this is, however, small compared to the number of people who enter on student or tourist visas,” Wadhwa said. “But clearly, the system needs to be monitored better, and the sleazy institutes who make visa fraud possible should be shut down—and their leaders sent to jail.”

    The ABC News report quoted Rachel Banks, director of public policy for NAFSA, an association of international educators that advocates for more welcoming U.S. immigration policies. According to the report, Banks said NAFSA understands the need to monitor the arrival and departure of foreign nationals, but stressed that foreign students shouldn’t become scapegoats. “Foreign students are an asset and not a threat,” she said.

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    Kim Berry, president of the Programmers Guild, an advocacy group for U.S. computer programmers and other tech workers, took issue with Banks’s statement. In an email exchange last week, Berry said the Programmers Guild disagrees that foreign students are an asset to the United States.

    “Once educated in our top schools, they return to their home countries with skills to compete against us—not unlike [a hypothetical situation in which] the U.S. military was training, then returning, soldiers to China and Iran,” Berry said. “If they remain, they undercut U.S. graduates competing for jobs. Because [foreigners who come here on student visas] are ‘Optional Practical Training’ visa workers, U.S. employers are exempt from paying certain benefits to them.”

    According to Berry, the University of California, and many other top U.S. universities, are displacing in-state admissions in favor of foreign students, because they pay a higher tuition rate.

    “While some tech companies cite a ‘skills shortage,’ a search of the openings reveals that their unfilled opening are for positions requiring years of experience beyond a degree,” Berry added. “There is no shortage of recent American college graduates seeking work.”

    A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.

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