International students could boost economy

The U is searching for more ways to help foreign students find employment after graduation.

by Taylor Nachtigal

As international students continue to saturate the nation’s universities, some experts and lawmakers are worried federal immigration policies aren’t offering enough assistance to these students as they attempt to enter local job markets after graduation.

Providing that type of help to students, they say, could substantially benefit local economies and foster important connections to businesses abroad.

From 2001 to 2012, the number of international students in the U.S. boomed from just above 100,000 to more than half a million, according to a new report from the Brookings Institution.

And with one of the largest populations of students with F-1 visas in the nation, the University of Minnesota wants to strengthen its programs to better prepare foreign students to enter the local job market and ultimately contribute to the economy.

Among other data, the Brookings Institution report released Friday examined the number of international students on F-1 student visas in the U.S. and their economic impact in 118 metro areas throughout the nation, including the Twin Cities.

The report’s author, Neil Ruiz, said federal lawmakers haven’t done much to promote the benefits of international students, though it would be in local governments’ best interest to allow more students to stay in the area after they graduate.

“I think metro leaders and state leaders need to realize that foreign students can kind of serve as bridges back to their growing home markets,” he said.

A report on international students by NAFSA: Association of International Educators found that from 2012 to 2013, international students contributed $24 billion to the nation’s economy through tuition and living costs. They contributed $332 million in Minnesota over that period.

Ruiz said this economic impact is crucial to local economies, but leveraging international business connections is equally important.

Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, said international students can contribute a lot to local businesses after they graduate and the federal government could do more to keep them here.

“Most of the barriers are due to federal immigration policy,” she said.

She also said Minnesota should assess what kind of programs the state can develop while the students are in college “so they can work for us when they’re done.”

Barbara Kappler, assistant dean of the University’s International Student and Scholar Services, said this is a large concern for many international students, which totaled nearly 6,000 at the University last fall.

The office conducted a survey last year of the University’s international students and found their main concern was finding a job after graduation.

Takehito Kamata, a graduate student from Japan and president of the University’s Council for International Graduate Students, came to the U.S. as an undergraduate. He said finding a job in order to stay in the states is a burden for many students like him.

Additionally, many employers are not familiar with the process of sponsoring potential employees to receive a work visa, Kamata said.

As a global leader, Kamata said, it’s important for the U.S. to understand the value of these students and their potential to create international connections.

Kappler said ISSS is reviewing the feedback from students who took last year’s survey and is working to provide the students with more career resources in addition to those it currently offers, which includes résumé critiques, practice interviews and workshops.