North Carolina’s universities are in a global competition for talent and President Trump’s executive order banning travel from seven countries made that job much harder. Though the federal courts have delayed implementation of the travel ban for now, uncertainty reigns and the problem has not gone away. Let me explain.
Before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel could rule on the president’s immigration executive order, the states of Washington and Oregon had to establish standing. And they established standing in part on grounds that the order negatively impacted their public universities. They argued that the teaching and research missions of their universities are harmed by the executive order’s effect on their faculty and students who are nationals of the seven affected countries. And the position these states are taking is broadly shared by the university community nationally. Already our universities fear the executive order, whether it is ultimately sustained or not, could increase the likelihood of graduate students from around the world declining offers to enroll in August. To many potential students, America no longer appears to be a place where international students will be secure and welcome.
The potential loss of talented students from these seven countries, and the message this executive order sends to people around the world, could threaten our security. Many observers, including former secretaries of state, think America is now less safe because of it. But I think it also threatens our prosperity.
North Carolina’s universities have worked hard to attract the world’s top graduate students for decades. These students in particular have choices around the world about where to study and do research. Although the United States is the leading destination for internationally mobile students, the U.S. market share has been declining due to increased global competition. The executive order, though delayed, will doubtless accelerate our decline.
There’s a lot at stake here for our state and for our country. International students contribute nearly $33 billion to our economy and create over 400,000 jobs, according to the latest national, state and congressional district level data. In North Carolina, that’s $509 million in financial contributions from students to the state, 6,800 jobs supported, from more than 18,000 international students enrolled.
Innovation and new business development is the key to a prosperous future for all Americans. So it matters that nearly one-quarter of the 87 billion-dollar, U.S. start-up companies had a founder who first came to America as an international student.
And our capacity to lead in scientific discovery hinges crucially on continuing to attract the brightest and the best from around the world. Immigrants have been awarded 40 percent, or 31 of 78, of the Nobel Prizes won by Americans in chemistry, medicine and physics since 2000. In 2016, all six American winners of the Nobel Prizes in economics and scientific fields were immigrants.
But the value of internationally inclusive public universities goes beyond their impact on the economy, scientific discovery and innovative business development. Despite the highly contentious election season, according to a new public opinion poll, a large, bipartisan majority – 90 percent of voters – agree that “our nation needs an education system that produces educators, business leaders, and diplomats who understand other cultures and languages.” But to fulfill this mission our universities need to be welcoming places for international students.
We may not be able to repair the damage done by the travel ban executive order, even if it is never implemented in its current form. But actions to oppose it at least signal to international community that American courts and American universities recognize the value that international students bring to our communities.
The North Carolina attorney general recently joined 17 state attorneys general to oppose the president’s executive order. As I see it America’s future prosperity, as well as its security, depends on winning an ultimate reversal.
Debra W. Stewart, PhD, is President Emerita of the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) and a senior fellow at the University of Chicago. She served as president of CGS from 2000 until July 2014. Previously, she was vice chancellor and dean of the graduate school at N.C. State University.