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Brain Drain Affect

Immigrant students graduating with degrees in STEM fields are finding it hard to join America’s workforce.
Brain Drain Affect

Brain Drain Affect

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Show Details

Show 1639: Brain Drain Affect
Air Date: September 25, 2016



Rob McClendon: America’s schools are having a hard time keeping up with the demand for STEM graduates in the workplace. Science, technology, engineering and math are all fields where there are more jobs than there are qualified applicants. And here’s the rub. It’s international students studying at American universities who often excel in the STEM fields. Yet when it comes to getting a job, joining America’s workforce is getting harder and harder, so many top international graduates, well, they head home. It’s a brain drain that some believe hurts our economic competiveness in this new global economy.

Rob: For Ethiopian Fregenat Andya, finding her classes on the first day of school is the least of her worries.

Fregenat Andya: It’s not really easy for us to come here.

Rob: Andya is one of a record number of international students enrolled in U.S. colleges. And it’s not an easy journey.

Andya: It’s like, if you take it from just one school perspective, it’s like a year process to get to a school. But if you think of it like from all the applications you do, for me it took me like three years to, like, to come here.

Rob: International students have to prove not only do they have the money for tuition but the English skills to succeed in class. Dave Henneberry is the head of OSU’s Wes Watkins School of International Studies and says once here, international students take full advantage of what they’re offered.

Dave Henneberry: Some of them come from countries where it’s just a little bit harder to carve out a career than it is in the United States. And they know they’ve really gotta have their full game on and get as qualified and learn as much as they can in school. And so that attitude and desire to progress their career is something we find just really nice to work with.

Rob: But once educated, we often lose some of the best and brightest to jobs abroad. International salaries now rival those here in the U S, while the pathway to a U.S. job is often littered with stumbling blocks.

Henneberry: Yes that’s true, and I’ve heard from the College of Engineering that some of their graduates now are returning home to India because they’re actually getting better salary offers there than they are in the United States. So we’ve seen it transfer where now the salary competitiveness of overseas occupations is on a par with what we’re offering in the U S. So it is an important issue – where are these highly qualified people going to locate and what industries will they develop and work in and which countries will benefit from those? And I think the argument that we make in the university is that the country that keeps the most qualified people will have those industries.

Rob: For Mexican national and OSU graduate Rodrigo Tello, staying and working in the U.S. is a goal but he knows it won’t be easy.

Rodrigo Tello: Here in the U S, I mean, we live in a multicultural society, no matter where you go. So it’s good for all. Most of the students not only hold a degree or have an international experience.

Rob: Special visas called optional practical training, or OPTs, are necessary for internationals to find employment in the U.S.

Tello: It depends. I mean it’s like really dropping a coin. And sometimes you are lucky, sometimes you are not, sometimes you can find a job with your OPT. There is a lot of people that stays in the U.S. with an OPT status holding a degree from an American university, and they cannot find a job and they have to go back to their home country.

Rob: So just from sheer economics, is it in our best interest to have more international students here in the States and possibly more international students working in the States after they graduate?

Henneberry: It absolutely is in our best interest because when we look at Oklahoma and the friends of Oklahoma and where they’ll come from in the future, we’re developing them now here in Oklahoma State. I had a fellow from Germany come into my office last year, and he had been an exchange student at OSU 27 years earlier, and he just wanted to come in and tell me that through his entire professional life he had maintained a connection with Oklahoma – and what a wonderful thing. And so most of the students that go back home are international students. If they do do something with the U.S. in the future, they’ll try to do it within Oklahoma. And that spells opportunity for our state in terms of economic development, trade relationships, political relationships – having that population of people that are so familiar with Oklahoma is good for us.

Rob: Now, if you would like to learn more about the economic impact immigration has on this country, we do have links to a quick whiteboard lesson on just that streaming under this story at