Biden Looks To Congress On Easing Path For Foreign MBAs To Stay In The U.S.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story said that Donald Trump’s changes to the H-1B lottery system have been reversed. They are still in place for the current intake. 

President Joe Biden is still expected to rescind his predecessor’s last-ditch efforts to scuttle key components of the H-1B visa system that is integral to bringing top talent to business schools in the United States. But major changes may have to wait for a legislative remedy.

For now, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services has announced that it will begin accepting H-1B visa registrations from U.S. employers seeking to sponsor highly skilled foreign nationals between March 1 and March 20 — and that the agency will utilize an online H-1B visa registration process to conduct how H-1B petitions will be chosen in its lottery selection system. USCIS will select registrations via lottery to meet the H-1B visa cap no later than March 31, the agency announced. Employers will then have 90 days to submit a full H-1B visa petition on behalf of the foreign worker named in the registration.

The agency has not yet announced if it will run the same type of lottery or whether salary tiers will be utilized.

Nevertheless, “Despite having inherited the previous administration’s restrictive immigration policies and regulations, President Biden has promised swift changes to U.S. immigration laws,” says Jason Finkelman, principal at Finkelman Law, a prominent immigration firm. “Many of these changes seek to positively impact employers and families. The White House has released a fact sheet which highlights some of the proposed provisions which include new pathways to permanent residence and citizenship, reforms to the H-1B visa program and other employment-based visa programs, reductions in green card backlogs, and modernizing many U.S. immigration processes.”


Joe Biden

International enrollment has been declining at business schools in the United States for the last four years, essentially since the election of Donald Trump, who explicitly proposed the rejection of wide swaths of immigrant populations. Trump espoused and implemented policies that both restricted visas for MBAs and other university graduates and deterred others from even considering an MBA at a U.S. school. Deans and others at the leading schools saw Trump’s actions for what they were: deeply deleterious to schools’ mission to educate a diverse and talented pool of future business leaders, and badly injurious to their bottom line, since internationals historically have made up one-third or more of any given MBA cohort.

How bad was it? In Poets&Quants‘ annual story on the levels of international enrollment at the top 50 schools — published in March and based on numbers reported before the coronavirus pandemic — we reported that since 2017, 31 schools in the top 52 saw declines in their foreign MBA student ranks, 21 by double digits. The average loss was 4.5 percentage points and 16.6%, including 3.5 points and 10.9% among 16 schools in the top 25. Seventeen schools saw increases, with an average gain of 5 percentage points and 17.7%. The Graduate Management Admission Council, meanwhile, reported that international enrollment in U.S. B-schools declined 13.7% in 2019; according to GMAC, which administers the main MBA admissions test worldwide, the percentage of international candidates who said the U.S. was their preferred destination dropped from 44% in 2017 to 37% in the first half of 2019. All this despite every one of the top-25 schools (and many others) designating their MBAs as Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics programs to helps graduates qualify for longer work stays in the U.S. Even as the global health crisis sparked a counter-cyclical boom in overall apps in 2020, international numbers worsened still more at many schools as travel restrictions compelled admits to petition for deferrals, which schools were disposed to liberally grant.

In his final days in office — after years of rhetorical and executive assaults on the H-1B visa and other programs that serve as pipelines to MBA programs and MBA employers in the U.S. — President Donald Trump sought to scrap the lottery that has long been seen as integral to the healthy functioning of the H-1B visa system. President Biden’s latest announcement reinstates the lottery, at least temporarily.

In 2019, Dean William Boulding of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business led an effort to advocate that making it easier for high-skilled talent to work in the United States would benefit the economy. Reached for comment after Trump’s final effort to change the H-1B system, Boulding told P&Q: “I am a strong supporter of immigration reform that makes it easier for high-skilled talent to work in the United States. As the collective effort from deans in 2019 demonstrated, this type of immigration reform is also in the economic interest of the U.S. However, it’s not apparent the latest immigration action from the Trump administration is a step in a productive direction.” He and his peers will “be encouraging the Biden administration to enact true and meaningful immigration reform for high-skilled talent,” Boulding added.


While the H-1B cap will remain at 85,000 for now, USCIS “again intends to reverse the lottery order in which it selects H-1B petitions for adjudication, to increase the amount of H-1B visas awarded to foreign nationals with U.S. master’s degrees and higher,” Jason Finkelman writes. “This means USCIS will first conduct a lottery for 65,000 H-1B visas for individuals who only have a bachelor’s degree plus those individuals with U.S. master’s degrees and higher. Those individuals with advanced degrees not selected in that lottery would be placed in a second lottery pool to play for the remaining 20,000 H-1B visas.”

In lieu of regulatory reversals, President Biden, along with Democrats in Congress, is seeking a legislative overhaul to the U.S. immigration system that would directly affect those seeking visas that allow them to pursue post-graduate work in the U.S.

“President Biden is sending a bill to Congress on day one to restore humanity and American values to our immigration system,” Biden announced on the day he took office this month. “The bill provides hardworking people who enrich our communities every day and who have lived here for years, in some cases for decades, an opportunity to earn citizenship. The legislation modernizes our immigration system, and prioritizes keeping families together, growing our economy, responsibly managing the border with smart investments, addressing the root causes of migration from Central America, and ensuring that the United States remains a refuge for those fleeing persecution. The bill will stimulate our economy while ensuring that every worker is protected. The bill creates an earned path to citizenship for our immigrant neighbors, colleagues, parishioners, community leaders, friends, and loved ones—including Dreamers and the essential workers who have risked their lives to serve and protect American communities.”

Among the bullet points in the announcement: one that addresses employment-based visas, including H-1Bs, promising to “Grow our economy.”

“This bill clears employment-based visa backlogs, recaptures unused visas, reduces lengthy wait times, and eliminates per-country visa caps,” it reads. “The bill makes it easier for graduates of U.S. universities with advanced STEM degrees to stay in the United States; improves access to green cards for workers in lower-wage sectors; and eliminates other unnecessary hurdles for employment-based green cards. The bill provides dependents of H-1B visa holders work authorization, and children are prevented from ‘aging out’ of the system. The bill also creates a pilot program to stimulate regional economic development, gives DHS the authority to adjust green cards based on macroeconomic conditions, and incentivizes higher wages for non-immigrant, high-skilled visas to prevent unfair competition with American workers.”

Finkelman adds: “While President Biden’s immigration proposal is likely to face many challenges, the White House is hopeful it can find common ground with Congress to move forward legislation that will take a more balanced approach toward U.S. immigration policies. Ultimately the Biden administration will seek to end the current restrictive immigration wave.”


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