B-School Deans Take A Stand On Immigration Policy

Fence with barbed wire and warning sign on the border of the USA

In an unusual move, business school deans from 50 different institutions are publicly calling for major reforms in immigration policies that they say restricts talent mobility and poses a major threat to the long-term competitiveness of the U.S.

Despite the risks of wading into a political controversy at a time when the public is highly polarized, the deans are calling for a wide range of remedies that includes an increase in the current cap on H-1B visas and an absolute exemption toward the cap for in-demand jobs. The deans released a 32-page white paper on the topic today (Oct. 15th), along with a full-page advertisement in D.C. edition of the The Wall Street Journal and an open letter to President Donald Trump, Vice President Michael Pence and the top four leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives.

Bill Boulding, the current chair of the Graduate Management Admission Council and dean of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, is leading the effort. He plans on spending the day in Washington, D.C., to press the case for a more opened view on skilled immigration with Congressional leaders, think tanks and other interest groups.


“Don’t expect to see me quitting my day job and moving to Washington to lobby on a policy,” quips Boulding in an interview with Poets&Quants. “Not only am I not a politician; I am not a lobbyist either. The debate around immigration gets very heated and it’s difficult to focus on particular dimensions of these immigration questions where there are bipartisan support and consensus. We have an opportunity to have these conversations with a variety of stakeholders who will be responsible for defining and articulating these policy changes.”

The white paper, meant to start a conversation about skilled immigration policies, is being issued at a time when interest among prospective international students in U.S. business schools continues to decline (see chart below). A recent study showed that the U.S. was considered for study by just 50% of international business school applicants this year, dropping from 62% a year earlier and 67% in 2017. Scared off by anti-immigration rhetoric and worries over work visas, the decline of international students in MBA applicant pools is a major reason behind a five-year drop in applications to full-time MBA programs in the U.S.

“What’s been really nice about this effort is that it is clearly not political or partisan in any way,” explains Boulding. “If you look at the list of schools that have signed the letter you will see the elite, private institutions, public schools, big schools, small schools, schools from red states and schools from blue states and from every region of the country. We are coming together because we believe this is in the national interest. Whether you call yourself a nationalist or a globalist, if you really care about the national interest, this is something we can agree to come together over to ensure our competitiveness over the long term.”


Bill Boulding, dean of Duke’s Fuqua School of Business & GMAC board of directors chair

Boulding cites a raft of academic studies, many of them from business school scholars, in support of a skilled immigration agenda. He points out that more than 40% of the Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children and that more than half of the Unicorn startups that have reached $1 billion or more in valuation have been created by immigrants. In more than 80% of these startups, immigrants play key management and product development roles.

He refers to a Brookings Institution study which found that while immigrants represent about 15% of the general U.S. workforce, they account for around a quarter of entrepreneurs and a quarter of inventors in the U.S. Since 2000, moreover, roughly one-third of all U.S. Nobel Prize laureates in chemistry, medicine, and physics were immigrants. Another study cited by Boulding found that international STEM talent working in the U.S. on H-1B visas have an important impact on American productivity, accounting for between 30% and 50% of the aggregate productivity growth in the U.S. between 1990 and 2010.

“Research coming out of business schools shows that restrictive immigration policies export jobs to other countries,” says Boulding. “All of us play a role in making sure there are no barriers to people in the U.S. who want to have access to these great jobs. No talent should sit on the sidelines. But if you open things up you are creating more opportunity for your citizens.:

Among the business deans supporting pro-immigration policies for skilled immigrants are those at Stanford, Columbia, Yale, Cornell, and Dartmouth as well as Berkeley, UCLA, Michigan, Indiana University, and the University of North Carolina (see the full list here). Yet, noticeably absent from the signatories are the deans of two of the most prominent business schools in the U.S., Harvard Business School and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Both HBS Dean Nitin Nohria and Wharton Dean Geoffrey Garrett, immigrants to the U.S. from India and Australia, respectively, are missing in action.

GMAC white paper on immigration

Source: GMAC White Paper entitled “Early Warning Signs: Winners & Losers in the Global Race for Talent”

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