New data show most international students want to stay in the U.S.
Congress is getting the message

A teacher and two students walk down a hallway, engaged in conversation.
A teacher and two students walk down a hallway, engaged in conversation.

The success of recent bipartisan efforts in Congress to bolster America’s global competitiveness, have been encouraging, if not incomplete. The bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act, signed into law in 2022, makes deep investments to ensure that the U.S. can maintain its global leadership in innovation and production. To fully deliver on those investments, however, Congress will also need to address the dire shortage of STEM workers available to fill these jobs.

Capitalizing on the potential contributions of international student graduates is an obvious solution. For decades, the United States has been the premiere higher education destination for students from around the world. International students contribute significantly to the U.S. economy and workforce, particularly in critical STEM fields, while also boosting wages and creating jobs for U.S. citizens.

By increasing the number of international students who stay and work here after graduation, the U.S. can protect its global competitive advantage, supercharge American innovation and production, and produce benefits that will be shared throughout the U.S. workforce.

Most international students want to stay in the U.S. after graduation

The good news is, international students at U.S. colleges and universities want to stay and work in the U.S., if they are allowed.

A survey conducted last year among prospective international students (many of whom are likely beginning their second year of study in U.S. universities in 2022) shows that about three-fourths (73%) would like to stay and work in the U.S. following graduation, and more than a third (38%) would like to live in the U.S. long-term, for four years or longer.

Note: Survey question: “If you were graduating from your intended degree program today, would you seek a visa to stay and work within the U.S. if a visa was easily accessible to you?” Among those saying yes, “How long would you ideally like to live and work in the U.S. following graduation?”
Source: 2021 survey of prospective international students to the U.S., as part of QS Quacquarelli Symonds’s annual international student survey.

Most international student groups share this willingness to stay, especially for the long term. Nearly 44% of undergraduates and 38% of graduate students would like to work in the U.S. for the long term after graduation. Additionally, a high share of students in STEM and business degree fields (41%) would like to stay. A large share of students from India (43%) or China (27%)—two countries with some of the largest numbers of international students who come to the U.S. to study—are more likely to want to stay and work in the U.S. for four years or longer after they earn their degrees.

Momentum is building in Congress

Congress is starting to get the message on the barriers that prevent international students from remaining in the U.S. following graduation. In a 2022 Senate hearing on immigration and higher education, Senators from both parties emphasized the important roles international students play in the U.S. workforce, and the need to better retain international students and harness their skills in the long term.

"The United States has long been a global leader in higher education. Students from around the world dream of coming to the United States to pursue advanced degrees. Many hope not just to find work here but to start their own companies here following graduation. The reality is too many are turned away from that dream by restrictive immigration policies…We’ve spent a lot of time in this Congress talking about U.S. competition policy. Immigration and education have been key elements of America’s competitive edge, and we are now losing that edge by failing to update our immigration laws.

Chair Alex Padilla (D-CA)Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety Hearing, "Strengthening Our Workforce and Economy Through Higher Education and Immigration," June 14, 2022.

Additionally, the House of Representatives passed several immigration provisions in their bipartisan competition and innovation bill, including those that would offer lawful permanent residence to some immigrants who hold advanced degrees. Unfortunately, these crucial immigration provisions for American technological innovation failed to be included in the finalCHIPS and Science Act passed by Congress. Nonetheless, momentum is growing in Congress for legislation that would offer a straightforward legal avenue for international student graduates to remain in the U.S. as more legislators recognize that recruiting foreign-born talent, particularly in STEM-related fields, will only further strengthen our national security.

Few existing options for international graduates to stay in the U.S.

Congress, however, has yet to pass legislation that would create a straightforward pathway for international student graduates to stay in the U.S. after they graduate. Existing visa avenues available to international students are temporary and limited. Optional Practical Training (OPT), an extension of international student status for graduates to get hands-on training and experience in their field of study, is available only for one year, with a two-year extension available for STEM graduates. Alternatively, only several thousand graduates are lucky enough to win the lottery for an H-1B specialty occupation visa. An even smaller number of individuals apply for other nonimmigrant visas, but these do not all provide the ability for students to stay long term after they graduate.1

“Unfortunately, our demand for labor across sectors and skill levels outpaces supply, a problem that’s only been made worse by the pandemic.…Every year, more than 200,000 new highly skilled students temporarily join our workforce through the Optional Practical Training program, outstripping the number of permanent positions available to them at the end of this program. I look forward to hearing about the proposals that would allow us to harness these students’ skills in the longer term.

Ranking Member John Cornyn (R-TX)Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety Hearing, "Strengthening Our Workforce and Economy Through Higher Education and Immigration," June 14, 2022.

Simply put, international student graduates have very few straightforward pathways to access visas to work in the U.S that enable them to stay long term. Most international student graduates who would like to remain and work in the U.S. face an uphill battle of temporary legal statuses, living with extended periods of uncertainty—if they’re able to attain legal status at all. Most opportunities are left to chance. And those opportunities that do exist can mean years of waiting, forcing students and their families to stay in limbo.

Based on the 2021 survey findings, a recent report by estimates that some 100,000 international students each year would like to stay and work in the U.S. following graduation. About half of these international students are in advanced degree programs, while about two thirds are in STEM-related degrees of both undergraduate- and graduate-level programs.

With more than 3 million job openings in STEM, health, and business management fields, we could reduce labor shortages in these fields by up to a quarter over the next 10 years if these student graduates were allowed to stay and work in the U.S. Furthermore, the U.S. economy could grow by more than $233 billion this decade if these graduates were able to work in the U.S.

International students preparing for graduation at the end of the 2022 school year have already begun to make their plans. Some will try the H-1B lottery process, while others will apply for OPT. But many may have already given up. Seeing peers and family members go through so much trouble and uncertainty, they may decide to move back home, or seek employment with their U.S. degree in other countries that compete for top global talent like Canada, the UK, or Australia.

Real legislative action is needed

Congress can encourage international students to stay in the U.S. and contribute their U.S.-provided education and training to the American economy by allowing international graduates to fully access immigration avenues. As we describe in this policy blog, Congress can pass legislation that allows international students with U.S. degrees to access green cards directly by exempting them from restrictive numerical caps. Other legislative options include establishing a long-term postgraduate work visa, exempting advanced degree holders from H-1B caps, and creating an entrepreneur visa—many international entrepreneurs first come to the U.S. for education.

As the recent Senate hearing on immigration and education suggests, all these legislative actions, in whole or in part, should garner strong bipartisan support. The facts on the promise of international student graduates for the U.S. economy are clear and overwhelmingly positive. Congress should do everything it can in 2022 to keep as many international students here as possible who want to stay in the U.S. to work, create jobs, and contribute to our country.


  1. An even smaller number might be fortunate enough to be sponsored by an employer for lawful permanent residency (LPR), but the wait for most sponsored employees is several years, if not more than a decade. This is especially true for international graduates from countries like India and China because of green card country caps.
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