Smart immigrants literally are making America great - Albuquerque Journal

Smart immigrants literally are making America great

A steady stream of smart immigrants has historically offered a steroid shot to the U.S. economy. Most people reading this are descended from smart immigrants. This influx of geniuses (or almost geniuses) is at risk as the U.S. government has just suspended “premium processing” of expedited applications for H-1B visas to the U.S. and put forth policies that discourage all immigrants from coming here.

Many international students come to American universities first as their path to American citizenship. At universities, there are high academic standards for entrance that escalate with higher degrees. At America’s top schools, the competition to get a graduate degree is fierce – particularly in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines – the exact disciplines that H-1B visas target. For example, a Ph.D. generally involves being in the top 5 percent of IQs for the country.

If you have not been to a university in the U.S. recently, you might not have noticed that more and more of our American graduate schools are made up of foreign students hoping to get advanced degrees and stay here on H-1B visas until they can get green cards and then eventually become citizens. There are so many students that apply to graduate school positions from foreign countries, it is hard to manage the applications. To make a rough first cut, universities often order potential students in giant spreadsheets by graduate record examination (GRE) scores (for engineering, we normally favor quantitative reasoning). Elite universities often have pages of perfect or near-perfect scores from foreign students wanting to come to America. American students able to compete at this level have become minorities in graduate schools like mine in the middle of Michigan.

These foreign students represent an enormous benefit for America. We get some of the smartest people from other countries to come here for training and then they stay to help our tech sector. They end up living and working in places like Silicon Valley – literally making America great. These smart foreigners are not “stealing” graduate school spots from Americans. They can actually help subsidize domestic students.

This same reasoning holds true even for students of potential enemy foreign countries. Trump’s misguided and legally questionable executive order banned refugees from entering the United States for 120 days, and it placed an indefinite hold on Syrian refugees. It also blocked citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. (The latest version lets in Iraq citizens).

What this means is we are turning away smart people from these countries en masse. This is not a good idea. For example, more than half of the Iranian students that come to America are engineers; over 80 percent come for graduate degrees and nearly 90 percent stay – the highest number of any country – mostly because they are running away from Iran. It is an enormous challenge for them to come here as it is as they must travel out of Iran simply to take the GRE exam. If Iran is truly an enemy country, the last thing we want to do is stop the brain drain, with their smartest citizens coming to the U.S. Worse, turning them away at the border provides Iran with a ton of smart engineers. Why would we want to do that?

Certainly, vet students to ensure they are not terrorists, but do it in a way that shows them respect and maintains their dignity. Then bring as many in as we can – it only makes the U.S. better.

One of my first graduate students was Iranian. He spoke perfect English, was a hard worker, polite and easy to get along with, and a solid engineer. His thesis covered the design of advanced energy systems using algorithms that learn. He is smart. He now works on projects helping major firms improve their energy efficiency – literally saving companies tens of millions of dollars a year. He lives in Canada. America lost out. And the greatest risk is that other foreign students either stop staying in the U.S. or, even worse, stop coming to America altogether.

It is time we dusted off the red carpet, and started welcoming foreign students and immigrants into the U.S. of A. again.

Joshua Pearce is a professor cross-appointed in the Department of Materials Science & Engineering and the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at the Michigan Technological University.


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email

Nativo Sponsored Content

taboola desktop


Beat the resolution rush and check out how to ...
From the newspaper
Beat the resolution rush and ... Beat the resolution rush and check out how to eat better, exercise more and engage with others
PNM-Avangrid merger too important for NM to cast aside
From the newspaper
Most people who are PNM customers ... Most people who are PNM customers - about 60% of the state - know that PNM is in the middl ...
Editorial: NM has made strides to rein in bad ...
Three weeks after court approval of ... Three weeks after court approval of an emergency petition immediately turned Dorris Hamilton's ...
Preserving the beauty of the past for the future
ABQnews Seeker
Conservation work starts at historic Córdova ... Conservation work starts at historic Córdova church
Roundhouse bracing for debate on redistricting
ABQnews Seeker
New Mexico established a citizen committee ... New Mexico established a citizen committee to hold hearings and develop recommendations
SF Archdiocese set to hold web auction for 427 ...
ABQnews Seeker
First sale in September generated winning ... First sale in September generated winning bids of almost $1.4M
Federal medical team leader touts positive experience in New ...
ABQnews Seeker
Disaster assistance group was deployed to ... Disaster assistance group was deployed to San Juan County
Supply and demand dictates higher teacher salaries
From the newspaper
Teachers change lives. We make their ... Teachers change lives. We make their jobs easier by ensuring students have high-quality learning mat ...
Library Friends' book, CD, DVD sale on Dec. 11
Friends of the Public Library will ... Friends of the Public Library will hold a used book, CD and DVD sale 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1 ...