Staple “Green Cards” to Diplomas? A Nonsensical Idea

One of the current immigration reform proposals advanced by both the bipartisan Senate “Gang of Eight” and by President Obama is giving automatic immigrant visas (“green cards”) to foreign graduates of U.S. universities. The argument is made that if we do not give them jobs they will go home and compete against us.

To assess the logic of this proposal you should ask yourself whether you think the foreign graduate should get a visa to work in the U.S. if there are not enough jobs for American graduates. That, in effect, is the standard at present. To get a “green card”, the foreigner has to have found an employer offering a job, and the employer has to certify that no qualified U.S. workers have been found to take that job. That makes sense. Why would you want to give a visa to a foreign graduate of a U.S. university if no employer is interested in hiring that person? And why would we accept that our own graduates be disadvantaged?

But what about those graduates of U.S. universities going back home to compete with us? First, remember that this is the basis on which student visas are given in the first place. Unless you plan to return to your home country at the end of your studies, you are not supposed to be eligible for a student visa. That is what the law says, but everybody knows that the intent to return to the home country can change after a few years in the U.S. especially if a good job offer is available. The point is that no one should be surprised if a foreign student wants to return home. And, even “green cards” for foreign graduates are not going to keep all those foreign student graduates in the United States.

In addition to the chance for an employer’s sponsorship for a “green card,” there are at present about 100,000 nonimmigrant visas being given each year to foreign workers with university degrees or outstanding skills (H-1B visas). These non-immigrant work opportunities are being used by employers to hire the foreign graduates of U.S. universities in effect as probationers who hope eventually to be sponsored for a “green card.” If they don’t get sponsored for a “green card” or even a nonimmigrant visa, they are still able to take a U.S. job under a program of Occupational Practical Training that may extend up to 2 years and 5 months. The Department of Homeland Security puts the current number of OPT workers at about 70,000.

The enrollment of foreign university students has steadily climbed and there were at least 723,000 in U.S. schools in the 2010-2011 school year according to the Institute for International Education (IIE) – and not all schools provide IIE with that information.

The “green card” requirement that qualified U.S. workers have to be hired before hiring a foreign worker does not apply to the nonimmigrant H-1B visas or the OPT work status. If the H-1B law were changed to require that US workers had to be hired first, there would presumably be even more foreign graduates of U.S. universities who are not offered U.S. jobs than at present. So then the choice would be either to recognize that it is natural to expect many of those foreign graduates to leave the U.S. – they might be hired by foreign operations of U.S. companies rather than competing with them – or, if there really is a concern about those graduates going home to compete against us, then we ought to look at reducing the number of foreign students coming to the U.S. to get degrees and thereby bring the number into balance with the number that can be absorbed by the job market without displacing U.S. workers.

About Author


Jack, who joined FAIR’s National Board of Advisors in 2017, is a retired U.S. diplomat with consular experience. He has testified before the U.S. Congress, U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform and has authored studies of immigration issues. His national and international print, TV, and talk radio experience is extensive (including in Spanish).


  1. avatar

    Why are we educating so many foreign students when they cant work in the US . Thats the real question.

    • avatar

      I believe I can answer your logical question. The USA is not a self-sustaining island. International trade is essential. Without people in foreign countries who have the skills & knowledge to start businesses, they won’t have goods to trade or money to buy our products with. I attended college in a state with a very large foreign student population. Many of them admitted they lied about plans to return to their home countries, that they’ll just ignore departure requirements and drag out any deportation proceedings until they wangle legal residency. After one year, quite a few demanded federal government funds to pay their schooling & living expenses, which they often received while native born students were denied. After graduation they competed for jobs with Native born citizens. This is NOT the way this was supposed to work.

  2. avatar

    If you are really worried about foreign students competing against us, the answer is to not have so many student visas. Somehow that never comes up. The people who are supposedly so worried also want as many foreign students as possible–it makes no sense.

    • avatar

      You hit the nail on the head. Also, these days, many of the 930,000 foreign students here are from CHINA. And guess whose government was just found to be hacking not only US gov’t but business interests as well? Why on earth should we invite to be citizens of this country, with access to her secrets, people we can’t be sure won’t maintain their loyalty to their home ocuntry and spy for it? Even if that spying is often these days for commercial purposes?

  3. avatar

    Our politicians do not value our country nor its once high standards. No foreign student should be given a green card and certainly not stapled to their diploma/degree! We have American students who should have first priority and the only priority. Who knew that haveing foreign students would be such a negative…they only took foreign students anyway because of the tuition they would receive…every time we focus on a cause, another 10 infuriating road blocks pop up.

  4. avatar

    Exactly, look at the real solution. Stop educating foreign students and leave those slots for American born kids, a lot of whom cannot even get into our public colleges even with fairly high marks.

    • avatar

      Do you know how many billions of dollars the foreign students contribute to the USA economy by paying thousands of dollars per semester? They cover all the Financial Aids, scholarships and and many other benefices that are given to native students.

      • avatar

        Billions, no I don’t think so. And the parents of those American kids paid taxes for decades to support those schools.

      • avatar

        Yes, Irina. However, in STEM fields, they are willing to work for low wages and under poor conditiions in order to get green cards–and THAT undercuts American students and workers. Foreign students who come, study, spend money, and go home are the ones we need.

        • avatar

          @Ali: Good point Ali. Why not hold on to the foreign students of STEM field who are about to go home and issue them a green card? And suddenly, all the foreign STEM students want to go home…..hahaha and then all of them will have a green card….brilliant thought!!!