Kennedy School Professor Examines Foreign Student Program

Contact: Doug Gavel
Phone: 617-495-1115
Date: July 02, 2002

CAMBRIDGE, MA – Amid heightened American anxiety regarding foreign nationals studying in the United States, a cost-benefit evaluation conducted by George J. Borjas, Robert W. Scrivner professor of economics and social policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, raises new questions about the viability of the foreign student program in this country.

Citing data from both government and non-government sources, Borjas notes that more than 300,000 visas for academic studies and vocational training were issued in 2000, raising the proportion of foreign-born graduate students to 10.8 percent in American colleges and universities. While foreign students pay tuition, Borjas says, taxpayers continue to subsidize a high percentage of the costs to the point where a “sensible and noble effort” to provide educational opportunities for foreign students has evolved into an “economically dubious proposition and a national security fiasco.”

Among the evaluation’s conclusions:

Although the foreign student program “increases the number of high-skill workers available to American employers and exposes many future leaders to democratic values and institutions…the program is so large, so riddled with corruption, and so ineptly run that the INS simply does not know how many foreign students are in the country, or where they are enrolled.

A cost-benefit calculation of the foreign student program indicates “the net benefits provided by the foreign student workers could be easily outweighed by the cost the program imposes on taxpayers.”

The large number of foreign students entering certain occupations “probably altered the educational plans of generations of native-born Americans. And it is far from clear whether such a distortion in the career choices of our brightest students is in the national interest.”

The quality of undergraduate education in the United States may have suffered as a result of the foreign student program.

Borjas has written extensively on labor market and immigration issues. He is the author of several books, including Heaven’s Door: Immigration Policy and the American Economy (Princeton University Press, 1999), Labor Economics (McGraw-Hill, 1996; 2nd edition, 2000), and Friends or Strangers: The Impact of Immigrants on the U.S. Economy (Basic Books, 1990). He has also published over 100 articles in books and scholarly journals and is a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

To download Borjas’ report, access the Kennedy School working papers Web site: http://ksgnotes1.harvard.edu/research/wpaper.nsf/RWP/RWP02-026

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