Northeastern president urges Congress to pass global competitiveness bill with ‘key provisions’

Photo by Billie Weiss/Northeastern University

Every year, thousands of international students receive advanced degrees from U.S. colleges and universities. And every year, many of those students take what they’ve learned back to their home countries.

But it’s often not by choice.

While many students would rather stay in the U.S.—work for U.S.-based companies and be leaders in American innovation—the federal government limits how many visas are issued. The cap even applies to former students who received master’s and doctoral degrees in coveted STEM fields.

Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

Two bills currently being considered by Congress—the Senate’s United States Innovation and Competition Act and the House’s America COMPETES Act—would change that.

One of the leading proponents of the legislation is Northeastern University President Joseph E. Aoun.

On Monday, he sent a letter urging passage of a merged bill to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy.

The Bipartisan Innovation Act, a proposed Senate and House compromise, is currently being debated by a conference committee, which is charged with reconciling the two versions.

The bills include thousands of pages, but in his letter Aoun prioritized three “key provisions that will help ensure our continued global competitiveness.”

They are:

1. STEM immigration provisions

2. Robust federal research funding

3. International education programs

“Continued American competitiveness fundamentally depends on our ability to attract and retain global talent,” Aoun wrote.

In 2022, over 300,000 non-U.S. citizens applied for H1B visas—documents that allow them to work in the U.S. after graduating from college—but only about a third received them.

The visa process—which can eventually lead to a green card and U.S. citizenship—includes selection through a random lottery.

Aoun wants to change that.

“I urge you to include provisions contained in the House competitiveness bill that would exempt PhD and Master’s graduates in STEM fields from the current numerical caps on green cards,” he wrote, “making it easier for talented international students in high-demand fields to remain in the United States.”

In addition to lifting the cap on visas, Aoun also urged lawmakers to increase funding for research-funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health.

“The United States’ role in the global economy depends on our ability to maintain our longstanding leadership in scientific discovery and innovation,” Aoun wrote. ”Our ability to develop cutting edge discoveries that advance humankind and solve societal challenges is what makes the United States an attractive destination for exceptional international talent.”

Finally, Aoun urged Congress to include funding for the Department of Education’s international education programs in its final bill. These programs include language fellowships, programs that support scholarly work and research on global issues.

“These programs enable American learners to be culturally agile and true global citizens,” Aoun wrote, “and at the same time they make the United States a destination for learners from around the globe.

Northeastern University is the nation’s preeminent destination for global learners, Aoun wrote, welcoming more international students than any other university in the United States.

“Global mobility and cultural agility are core components of a Northeastern education,” he said.

But they are much more than institutional priorities.

“Embracing a global mindset is an economic imperative for the nation,” Aoun wrote. “It is essential for continued American competitiveness in the global economy and to sustain our leadership in innovation and scientific research.”

At her most recent weekly press conference, Pelosi said she hoped Congress would pass a version of the United States Innovation and Competition Act or America COMPETES Act before July 4.

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