Do foreign graduates return or stay?

Date posted: August 19, 2013

As are many, if not most U.S. colleges and universities, N.C. State is seeing a major influx of students from other countries. Do those students return home after finishing their degrees? Or do they stay in this country? N.C. State University economist Mike Walden answers.

“Well, before I answer that …, let me give you one statistic that supports the observation that we do have more relatively more foreign students here. If you look at the percentage of PhDs awarded in the U.S. in science and engineering, in 1970, 23 percent of those PhDs went to foreign-born students. Today, it’s 56 percent.

“So, we are seeing a greater number of foreign-born students here in our universities. And one reason is because we’ve got a great higher education system. Many experts say that the U.S. has the best higher education system in the world. We have countries like China that are developing economically. They need more educated workers. So, they’re looking around the world: Where can their students go? And obviously a lot of them come to the U.S.

“Now to get to your question, once a foreign student graduates, do they want to stay or go home? Well, we have a … recent survey of recently graduated foreign students. A whopping 80 percent – 80 percent – said that when they finished, they wanted to stay here in the U.S.

“Now, that doesn’t mean they can. There are a lot of hoops they have to jump through in order to stay and work here in the US. But I think it’s a very good indicator of their desires.

“Now of course this gets us into a debate about immigration. Supporters of foreign educated workers staying say, ‘Hey, they bring their brain power here to the U.S. That’s going to help the US economy.’ Others say, no, that they’re competitive with natural-born students who want those same kind of jobs, so there’s (another whole) debate there.

“But clearly the data show that foreign students do want to end up staying here in our country.”

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