Thursday, January 28, 2021

PhDs and Green Cards

Joe Biden's immigration policy has some interesting policies for PhDs. 

Biden will exempt from any cap recent graduates of PhD programs in STEM fields in the U.S. who are poised to make some of the most important contributions to the world economy. Biden believes that foreign graduates of a U.S. doctoral program should be given a green card with their degree and that losing these highly trained workers to foreign economies is a disservice to our own economic competitiveness. 

Biden will submit an immigration plan to congress soon but it is not clear if the above will be in the bill, whether it will survive negotiations or even whether an immigration bill will be passed at all. 

Nevertheless I worry about the unintended consequences of this policy. It will encourage students to apply and come for a PhD who have no interest in research, but want the green card. It gives too much power to professors who may abuse their students who need the PhD. Conversely it will pressure professors and thesis committees to grant PhDs because there would be a big difference between graduating with a PhD and leaving early with a Masters. By making the PhD so valuable, we may devalue it.

The solution is to give green cards to Masters students as well. We shouldn't limit talented researchers and developers who can help the United States keep its technology edge. They don't take jobs away from Americans, but instead help create new ones.


  1. I don't understand your logic in the second part.

    Master's programs are already an issue because some institutions already abuse them (by that I mean they just hand degrees in exchange for money and some attendance).

    In exchange, many not-so-well-qualified foreigners who can afford to pay for the Master's get an OPT extension and an easier path towards jobs and work visas in the US. Because of this, Master's programs are essentially worthless, since they don't certify the skills of those who graduate them.

    I don't see how further incentivizing this behavior will help anyone - universities will turn into green card mills, Master's programs are going to become much more expensive due to humongous demand. Policymakers are going to come up with new crazy ideas for how to curb the excessive immigration caused by this loophole.

    In the meanwhile other less privileged people will suffer, like dreamers who can't afford to pay for this luxury.

  2. I second the first comment. I am an immigrant myself and a university professor. I do not see enough being done to help domestic students obtain a masters or a PhD. Most of them do not have an incentive to do them because of college debt. Many masters programs in the US are glorified undergraduate programs, especially at weaker institutions. They are incentivized to offer them to make money.

  3. I really hope Biden's policy is defeated. Academic talent does not equate with character. I went through a long green-card process after getting my Ph.D. in US. I did not like the long process at the time, but now that I am a US citizen, I appreciate the due diligence done by the immigration department. To put things in context, Mohamed Atta was a graduate student in Germany and that gave him access to the planes in the West. We all know what happened on 9/11.

  4. Excellent points/concerns raised by Lance and also anon.

    To my understanding, the US has been facing analogous
    concerns in regard to the master programs category.
    Assuming this seems appealing to foreign candidates,
    by law of large numbers, there will be an increase of
    PhD applicants (particularly in comparison to the last 4 yrs).
    So, Biden could pride himself in having helped to increase that
    stats, but at the same time this might cause unintended consequences to quality and reputation. (Ironically, this has
    also been an issue when scaling is performed .....)

    Now one question, would the law of large numbers guarantee that the proportion of high quality applicants is accordingly represented (thus grows accordingly). (What type of underlying distribution would be assumed?).
    If not, then this might end up crippling value and quality of US higher education ... and if so, it would become more challenging for professors to "abuse" their PhDs; on the contrary, they would become a headache to them, resulting in
    - failures to complete degree programs and/or
    - increase in drop out rates, or
    - lower quality PhDs granted, etc ...)

    On the other hand, if the system were
    superb, innovative and robust, it could
    potentially take any gem (of whatever calibre and quality)
    and generate something extraordinary!
    And no, I am not referring to Utopia ...

  5. Do online degrees count? Ph.D. mills here we come!