Student Visas

February 24, 2017

The subject of student visas aggravates me as much as illegal immigration (although we’re finally getting some great news on that front).

Why?  “What’s the problem with student visas?” you might ask.  For most, the topic probably conjures up images of foreign exchange students coming to the U.S. to experience life here and return home to spread the news about what a great place the U.S. is and to help spread our value system around the world.  Or maybe you envision students coming here for an education that can be put to work back home in some underdeveloped country, helping to raise living standards there.  But the reality of the situation is nothing like this.  The student visa program boils down to money.  It’s a system designed to suck trade dollars back into the U.S. economy and to prop up inflated tuitions.

Let’s begin with some data.  Here are the statistics for non-immigrant visas issued from 2011 through 2015.  (The data for 2016 is not yet available.)  Student visas are primarily “F” visas.  “M” visas are for vocational students.  Taken together, they totaled nearly 700,000 in 2015.  These are “non-immigrant” visas, but don’t be fooled.  A large percentage of these students receive immigrant visas (leading to permanent status) almost automatically upon graduation.

Where do these students come from?  About 280,000 came from mainland China.  75,000 came from India.  28,000 came from Saudi Arabia.  27,000 came from South Korea.  17,600 came from Vietnam.  An equal number came from Mexico.  17,000 came from Japan.  The rest are spread across the remaining nations of the world.  The significance of this list will be discussed later.

To get an idea of what the student visa program is really about, take a look at this web site, which provides information for foreign students for how to apply:

What it boils down to is this:  you have to explain why you want to study in the U.S. and, more importantly, you have to prove that you can pay for it.  There’s no student loan program here, at least not through U.S. agencies.  If you can get scholarship money from your native country, fine, but regardless of how you get the cash, you have to be able to pay your way.  You must also declare your intent to return to your home country when you’re finished with your studies.  But that’s a formality, one easily skirted when you actually get your degree.

In 2015, over 677,000 “F” visas were issued.  223,000 applicants were refused.  In other words, about three quarters of all applicants are accepted.

Now, let’s take a look at some interesting findings about the student visa program published in a study by the Brookings Institution in 2012.  Here’s the link:

“From 2008 to 2012, 85 percent of foreign students pursuing a bachelor’s degree or above attended colleges and universities in 118 metro areas that collectively accounted for 73 percent of U.S. higher education students. They contributed approximately $21.8 billion in tuition and $12.8 billion in other spending—representing a major services export—to those metropolitan economies over the five-year period.”

Got that?  They paid full tuition and living expenses, bringing over $33 billion into the economy.  And that was through 2012.  In 2015, when 25% more visas were issued than in 2012, that figure rises to over $42 billion.

Two-thirds of foreign students pursuing a bachelor’s or higher degree are in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) or business, management and marketing fields, versus 48 percent of students in the United States.

Remember how tech companies claim that they depend heavily on immigrants to provide the advanced skills that they need?

Forty-five (45) percent of foreign student graduates extend their visas to work in the same metropolitan area as their college or university.

In other words, these students then go on to become the H1-B visa workers that the tech industry (and many others) claim that they need.  So the “non-immigrant” nature of student visas, and the declaration of intent to return to their home country, is truly a joke.  Here’s further evidence that student visas are used as the pipeline for H1-B visas:

These companies who claim that they’re dependent on immigrants for the skills they need are trying to pull the wool over your eyes.  What they need are STEM graduates and they get them from American universities.  They like the fact that foreign students contribute to a glut of labor that helps to keep their payroll costs suppressed.  When Apple claims that, if immigrants aren’t allowed to travel freely to work in the U.S., then they might need to relocate to where they can have easier access to immigrant labor, that’s a “crock” and they know it.  Go ahead, Apple, move to Yemen or  Iran or Libya or one of those other countries, and let’s see how successful you can be there.  What you really need are the STEM graduates of American universities.  You won’t find them in those other places.  But what you will find are poverty, illiteracy and oppressive governments.  But you say you can do better there.  So prove it.  Just leave.  Go ahead.  Go.

There’s a mind-numbing amount of information in these links.  Let’s boil it all down:

  • Immigrants currently fill 1.2 million of the seats available in American universities.  That’s a significant percentage of the seats available.
  • Approximately three quarters of foreign students who apply are accepted.  Compare that to the acceptance rate for American students at most prominent universities, where only 10% or fewer attain admission.
  • Why the preference for foreign students?  Because they pay full tuition, propping up the ridiculous rate of tuition increases.
  • Foreign students are given preference over American students because of their ability to pay.  This effectively shuts American students out, especially from STEM curricula.
  • The influx of foreign students actually counts as an export of services.  Can you believe that?  It’s one of the tricks used by the government to draw trade dollars back into the U.S. economy and to keep our trade data from looking even worse than it does.
  • University sports teams have also gotten in on the act, now recruiting foreign students through the “student” visa program, denying athletic scholarships to deserving American athletes.  When it comes time for the Olympics, those athletes, trained in America, compete for their home countries, leaving the American teams thin.
  • Almost half of foreign students then go on to work in America, shutting American students out of those jobs as well.
  • The student visa program feeds into the H1-B visa program, which then begins to feed many of the other immigrant categories such as immediate relatives and family-sponsored preferences.

OK, remember the above list of countries that send the most students?  Did you notice anything about that list?  Did you notice that it includes the countries with whom America has the biggest trade deficits?  That should give you a clue as to where these foreign students are getting the money they need for tuition.  Their parents are getting rich on manufacturing for export to the United States.  What this means is that, in addition to taking your job, they then use your money to pay for their kids to come over here and take your kids’ jobs too!  Can this scheme possibly get any more outrageous?

If you’re an American student who hasn’t been able to get accepted into the school or program of your choice, the student visa program is probably the main reason.  If you’re a recent graduate and find yourself now saddled with crushing student loan debt, you can blame the student visa program for propping up ridiculous tuition rates.  And if you now find yourself struggling to find a job, you can once again blame the student visa program.

The student visa program is an outrage perpetrated on unsuspecting parents and students, depriving them of opportunities to help America out of its trade-created cash crisis, to help greedy universities prop up inflated tuition rates and to help corporations suppress wages with a labor glut.  It has to stop.  No foreign student should be admitted until every last American kid who wants a college education has gotten a seat in a university.  President Trump … please … take a close look at the student visa program and rein it in.

Economists’ Next Big Idea: The “Invisible Foot” (?!?)

March 2, 2013

This is the 21st century.  An unmanned vehicle roams the Martian terrain, beaming back analyses of soil samples.  The human genome has been mapped, opening the door to incredible medical advances.  Human organs can be reproduced on a 3-D printer with ink of living stem cells.  We carry incredible computing and communication technology in our shirt pockets.  Physicists work on nano-structures and discover ever-smaller particles while unlocking the mysteries of the universe. 

Then there’s the pseudo-science of economics.  As central banks feverishly shovel money into the economy in a clumsy effort to fend off global economic collapse, economists grope in the dark to find explanations that fit their gilded 19th century theories.  The above-linked article by Reuters columnist and economist Reihan Salam reports on economists’ latest and greatest answer – the “Invisible Foot” – apparently the long-ignored but newly rediscovered and dusted-off counterpart to Adam Smith’s “invisible hand.” 

Can you believe this?  Here we are, in the 21st century, with the global economy collapsing all around us, and we’re talking about invisible hands and feet.  This is the best that the progeny of our best economics universities can come up with?  Invisible hands and feet?  It seems more suited to a Harry Potter movie than 21st century economic reality.  (Not that I’ve ever seen a Harry Potter move.)

The idea goes something like this:  as opposed to Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” of consumption driving economic growth, the “invisible foot” (brainchild of mid-20th century economist Joseph Berliner) aims to give productivity a swift kick in the pants.  Here’s how the author of the article explains it:

… This invisible foot of new competition is what drives incumbent firms to either step up their games ‑ a process that often involves burning through stockpiles of cash and shrinking profits ‑ or go out of business.

… Unfortunately, this reallocation of resources ‑ from inefficient incumbents to innovative upstarts and the incumbents that manage to keep up with them ‑ stops when incumbent firms succeed in erecting regulatory and legal barriers to shield themselves against competitors, which is why regulatory reform and patent reform are so important. It is also why we ought to take care not to give large incumbents any undue advantages in our tax code.

… the tax-deductibility of interest expenses and not dividends gives the entrenched corporate Goliaths that have the option to borrow a big boost, while doing nothing for the would-be corporate Davids eager to take them on.

… With this in mind, Robert Pozen of the Brookings Institution and Harvard Business School and his research associate, Lucas Goodman, have devised an ingenious plan to level the playing field.  First, they call for cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent. … To finance this substantial cut, Pozen and Goodman propose a modest 60 percent to 85 percent cap on the amount of interest companies can deduct from their tax bills, sharply reducing debt bias and keeping the proposal revenue-neutral. … The end result could be an entrepreneurial renaissance, as lumbering corporate dinosaurs that had used cheap credit to scare off competitors are forced to reckon with innovative new rivals.

The following is the comment I posted in response to this article (which you can find by scrolling down to about the 7th comment), repeated here for your convenience:

There seems to be no limit to the goofy places that economists’ tortured logic will take them. The “Invisible Foot?” Here we are in the 21st century and this is what we get from the field of economics – the “Invisible Foot?”

The real problem has, for many decades now, been economists’ inability to distinguish true, healthy economic growth from macroeconomic growth, a large component of the latter being a malignant growth fed by nothing more than population growth. If the macroeconomy grows by 1%, but the population has grown by the same amount, no one is better off. In fact, all are worse off.

Because of their self-imposed blindness to the economic ramifications of population growth (no self-respecting economist dares risk being labeled a “Malthusian”) the field of economics is blind to the very real inverse relationship between population density and per capita consumption, and its implications for worsening unemployment, poverty and global trade imbalances. Economists can’t see that, beyond some critical population density, while population growth continues to stoke total sales volumes and corporate bottom lines, the cost of dealing with rising poverty while maintaining an illusion of prosperity through deficit spending is bankrupting local and national governments across the globe.

Instead, the field of economics maintains its “see no evil” posture and dreams up things like the “Invisible Foot,” an idea that might have played well during the dawn of economics in the 18th century. Are we really to believe that a revenue-neutral reshuffling of the tax code will spawn some sort of economic renaissance? Has no one noticed that the economies of those countries with lower corporate tax rates are still dominated by the same global mega-corporations as the U.S.? Are we to believe that these corporations grew as they did by being sloppy and inefficient, instead of mercilessly boosting productivity by cannibalizing the competition and slashing redundant workers?

The cowardly refusal of the pseudo-science called “economics” to even consider the most dominant factor driving economic trends today makes it the laughing stock of the 21st century. This nutty idea is just one more example of why.

Per Capita Energy Consumption

May 30, 2008

This story got a lot of coverage in the news yesterday.  To make a long story short, the Brookings Institution (one those “think tanks” that thinks what its corporate sponsors pays it to think), released a study that shows that per capita energy consumption (and corresponding “carbon footprint”) is lower in big cities than it is in more rural areas. 

While cities are hot spots for global warming, people living in them turn out to be greener than their country cousins.

Each resident of the largest 100 largest metropolitans areas is responsible on average for 2.47 tons of carbon dioxide in energy consumption each year, 14 percent below the 2.87 ton U.S. average, researchers at the Brookings Institution say in a report being released Thursday.

This seemed to come as a surprise to the study’s authors.

Those 100 cities still account for 56 percent of the nation’s carbon dioxide pollution. But their greater use of mass transit and population density reduce the per person average. “It was a surprise the extent to which emissions per capita are lower,” Marilyn Brown, a professor of energy policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology and co-author of the report, said in an interview.

 This shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the role of population density in driving down per capita consumption.  People in cities aren’t “greener” because out of any conscious effort to reduce energy consumption.  It’s due entirely to the fact that they’re forced to crowd together.  More live in smaller dwellings, like apartments and condos, have shorter commutes and are forced to use mass transit due to traffic congestion.  Would residents of Los Angeles prefer the more wide open quality of life enjoyed by people living in Lexington, Kentucky?  Most surely would, but it’s not an option for them.  They’ve been crowded out of that kind of life style. 

Now, obviously, this is a good thing from the perspective of conserving natural resources and minimizing impact on the environment.  But this declining per capita consumption is a very bad thing for employment.  Falling per capita consumption, in the face of rising productivity, results in rising unemployment and poverty. 

You have to ask yourself, what was Brookings’ motivation for doing such a study?  It seems clear to me:  Brookings’ corporate sponsors want to defuse concern about global warming and especially want to cast doubt on the growing suspicion that a growing population is an environmental threat.  To suggest that energy consumption is lowest in our most densely populated locales is to also suggest that we can solve the global warming crisis by actually increasing our population density. 

Don’t buy it.  There’s no greater threat to our environment, our limited supply of natural resources and especially to our economy, as rising unemployment and poverty take their toll, than further population growth.  No amount of technological solutions can be effective if population growth wipes out any improvements in efficiency.  It’s time to focus on the one and only solution that offers any hope of a sustainable high quality of life in the future – stabilizing our population. 

USAToday Perpetuates Population Myths

May 1, 2008

This article, which appeared in USAToday this morning, is a perfect example of the kind of shallow journalism that prevents any in-depth analysis of the root causes of our problems.  In this case, “journalists” Haya El Nasser and Paul Overburg take simple statistics from the Census Bureau and transform it into the kind of pap that’s designed to please their corporate benefactors, interested in nothing more than promoting never-ending population growth as a means of propping up sales volume and profits while driving down labor costs by further distorting the supply and demand equation for labor. 

The connection between the authors of the article and corporations is clear.  The authors didn’t take the census bureau data and come up with the “labor shortage” connection on their own.  It’s clear from the article that they were fed this baloney by the Brookings Institution, one of those “think tanks” that thinks exactly what it’s paid to think by their corporate benefactors.  It’s appalling to me these propaganda machines (and that’s all any of these “think tanks” are) are held in such high esteem by “journalists.”  But why not?  They make the jobs of lazy journalists easy by simply feeding them articles cloaked in a mantle of veracity and authoritativeness that they scarcely deserve. 

Here’s a sampling of their distortions:

“The number of Americans ages 25 to 44 has dropped 1.5% since 2000, shrinking the pool of young workers in some states despite a 7% increase in the country’s overall population, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Census data to be released today.

The influx of immigrants, which has contributed to more than half of the nation’s growth this decade, has not been enough to offset the aging of the nation’s 79 million baby boomers, which has depleted the ranks of young workers.”

How did immigration and the implication that we need more creep into this article?  It’s because the Brookings Institution is paid to promote high rates of immigration in order maintain our labor force in a state of over-supply.

“The drain on the workforce is most obvious in the Northeast and Midwest, where most of the 20 states that registered declines of 5% or more in the 25-44 age group are located.

‘Older industrial states are facing a double whammy: the loss of the younger, high-fertility workers and a diminished attraction of immigrants,’ says William Frey, demographer at the Brookings Institution.”

“High-fertility?”  Yet another plug for never-ending population growth by the corporate sponsors of the Brookings Institution.  And to suggest that this represents some kind of “drain of the workforce” suggests that employers are being left high and dry, unable to fill jobs.  That’s an outright lie.  Young people are leaving these states because there is no work.  Take my home state of Michigan, for example.  The article reports that the 25-44 population fell by 9.1%, among the highest in the nation.  It’s because unemployment in Michigan is also the highest in the nation at nearly 7.5%.

“That’s the case in Massachusetts, which experienced nearly a 10% drop among 25- to 44-year-olds.

‘We do suffer from outmigration, and outmigration is primarily among younger people,’ says Dana Ansel, the research director at MassINC, a non-partisan think tank in Boston. ‘Losing people in their prime working years is not positive.’”

Why, if there is no work for them? (Note the inclusion of another “think tank” quote.)

“The oldest baby boomers turn 62 this year and the youngest turn 44. The nation’s median age as of July 1 was 36.6, up from 35.3 in 2000.

The gaps in the workforce have been exacerbated by more early retirements, prompting a push to retain older workers. Several states have launched campaigns to lure retirees back to work by offering flexible schedules and work sites.”

Yet another lie.  These workers haven’t chosen to take early retirement.  They’ve been forced into early retirement by down-sizing programs and they’ve left these states to find work.  It’s not that the states who have lost these people need them back to work.  They need them back to prop up their sagging revenue base. 

“The big gains in the 25-44 age group occurred in fast-growing states in the South and Mountain West, where families and young singles can find jobs and affordable housing.”

Finally, a smidgeon of truth.

“‘We’ve got a smaller pool of young workers who will be counted on to support a growing pool of older non-workers,’ says Alan Berube, research director at Brookings and former policy adviser to the Treasury Department.”

I could have predicted that Brookings would be sure to make that point – that we need to sustain high rates of population growth to support the older workers.  Stoke fear among the elderly.  It’s a very effective way of garnering support for illogical positions.  Yes, a shift toward a stable or even declining population will yield some transient issues with funding social programs for the elderly, but since population stability has to be reached at some point, one way or another, further population growth only forestalls the day of reckoning when the problem will have escalated exponentially. 

“Think” tanks.  When did the word “think” become synonymous with “septic?”