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Beyond the Article: A Conversation with Ellie Silverman on International Student Visas

Original Illustration by Xinyuan Song

In the third episode of a series diving deeper into Brown Political Review Magazine articles, Multimedia Director Mitsuki Jiang interviews BPR Staff Writer Ellie Silverman (’25) about her recent article, “We Want You, But You Just Can’t Stay.” Her article is featured in the Excess edition of the BPR Magazine and can also be found on the Brown Political Review website. The transcript can be found below:

Mitsuki Jiang: Hi, I’m Mitsuki with the Brown Political Review’s Media Board. Welcome to the third episode of Beyond the Article, which is a series where we interview staff writers on their inspiration for and content of their articles. I’m here today with Ellie Silverman, hi! 

Ellie Silverman: Hi, thanks so much for having me!

Mitsuki: [Ellie] is a junior concentrating in History and is a staff writer for the BPR Editorial Board. Ellie recently wrote an article on the United States visa policy for international students, titled “We Want You, But You Just Can’t Stay.” It’s featured in the Excess edition of the Brown Political Review magazine. Your one sentence synopsis for this article is, “How the United States should streamline its visa policy for international students to sustain economic growth.” Could you maybe give a brief summary of your article and your argument, just for anyone who hasn’t gotten a chance to read it yet?

Ellie: Basically, the US visa system right now is extremely antiquated and also overworked because there just aren’t enough B-1 visas (which are the most popular type of visa for new graduates) to go around, and the cap hasn’t been raised in 30 years. Despite the Biden administration promising to modernize and streamline the system, their actions haven’t addressed that there just aren’t enough visas to go around, and that leaves a lot of room open for other countries like Canada and Australia, who then go into great universities like Stanford, MIT, and (a lot of times) in Silicon Valley, [to] advertise, “oh, well, you can come to our countries and you can have a very easy visa process” [to students]. And that’s especially prevalent among STEM degrees, which is why they’re [often]times in Silicon Valley. This leaves a gap in the US where you have these highly skilled workers that are doing a degree that we need people in, and they’re sometimes publicly educated, even though they’re paying full price, they’re benefiting from US systems, and then they’re leaving; even if they want to stay, they can’t because of our system.

Mitsuki: This was super interesting for me because I was totally unfamiliar with the visa process for international students. So again, super interesting article. What made you want to write about the topic? How did you discover it?

Ellie: Well, I’m lucky enough to have a U.S. passport, and I think (like many staff writers) we’ve come up to the deadline where we have to pitch, and we’re sitting there and we’re thinking, well, what do I do? I’m not sure. One of my roommates, who’s from the UK, was complaining about how she couldn’t do an internship because she couldn’t work on her visa and basically just complaining, “well, I don’t know what I’m going to do—it’s so difficult, it’s so complicated, [and] I have no idea.” I was thinking, “well, that’s so interesting because I’ve had other friends of mine (a lot of my friends are international) who [experienced similar situations]—even my other friend switched her degree to a STEM degree because then you’re able to stay in the US for three years rather than one year after graduating. It’s definitely a big thing that’s on people’s minds.

Mitsuki: In terms of sitting down and actually writing the article and researching the topic, how did you go about that? Could you maybe give some detail about your writing process?

Ellie: I would describe my writing process as pretty chaotic. I’m a big fan of finding a lot of sources, and my favorite thing is [to] pick topics that I don’t know a lot about because it’s just such a fascinating process where you really do learn a lot about it. So, I think I started by looking up, “why is it so difficult to get a visa in the US and visa issues in general?” I luckily never had to go through the process, but I’ve definitely heard a lot of stories about it. I grew up partially in Switzerland. I have a Swiss passport [and] an American passport. I have a friend who almost married her boyfriend because (she was about 24) she wanted to stay in the US and she wanted to work, so she ended up figuring out a way, but she almost married her boyfriend. So I thought, well, there’s a lot, and I just kind of looked up a lot of really random things, specifically about undergrads. I found some cool podcast articles, and I kind of went from there.

Mitsuki: I know you had a word limit for this particular article, specifically because it’s featured in the magazine, so I’d love to maybe dive a little deeper into the issue. I think the core problem that you identify is that international students have to convert their student visas into work visas if they want to stay in the US after college, which is, again, super complicated and unnecessarily messy. So if I’m understanding correctly, most international students have to essentially find a job right out of college and then apply for an employer sponsored work visa. Why is this process so complicated and difficult?

Ellie: Again, with the word limit, I could only scratch the surface. And from my research, the impression I got is that the situation is just so complicated. There’s a lot of anti-immigration sentiment [where] you don’t want people coming in and taking jobs, so to speak, but in industries where a lot of these people are getting degrees (for example, I think I found a stat that it was some 58% of Chinese international students do STEM degrees), there’s this anti-immigrant sentiment [of] “Well, we don’t want them taking our jobs.” At the same time, despite layoffs with large IT companies and in STEM degrees, in that sense, there’s still a lot of employment options for smaller companies, and they still need people.

Mitsuki: Moving forward (looking in the future), I know you recommended that the United States should implement reforms like raising the visa cap or implementing a visa pathway program that’s similar to that of Canada’s. Could you maybe elaborate a bit more on why you recommended those particular policies?

Ellie: Well, I think. Once you graduate, sometimes people have debt. Again, with the employer thing, like you said before, it’s a lot of stress. You have to find a job right away. And not only that, you need to find a job that’s willing to sponsor you. And with the Biden administration’s new policies (the threshold for sponsorship), it costs a lot more now to sponsor somebody. So then that also adds in this element where you’re then privileging more economically privileged students. So if you come from a wealthier background, it’s kind of pay to play. You can pay to be in the US. And on top of that, once you graduate, then you have a better chance of staying and it’s easier, or maybe you could even get an investor visa if you pay enough money. It’s just interesting [because] you leave very capable students that may come from a more disadvantaged background [behind], who’ve come to the US to get a better opportunity, who are, in a way, forced out.

Mitsuki: I know you briefly mentioned this—in the United States, there has been a lot of political tug of war when it comes to immigration policy. How do you think the US could balance national security concerns (most commonly from the right) with the economic imperative of attracting and retaining international talent to prevent the drain that you mentioned in your article?

Ellie: I mean, I think that’s why the main thing that I took from other countries’ immigration programs is that there really should be a separate track for people [who] are educated in the US and have these degrees that we want beyond a genius visa, because to get a genius visa, you need to prove an incredible amount of talent. It needs, I think, some sort of a national award or something, proving that you’re a genius, which is just unfeasible for so many people. And of course, in the US you have this fear, especially with the migrant crisis, of immigrants coming in. But the students that are coming in and staying, that’s a completely different group of people, and I think to then lump them in with everyone else is a bit dangerous. At the same time, the US immigration process is just such a mess in general on so many levels. Making another track is definitely an easier way to go. Of course, my article isn’t about this, but there are definitely a lot of immigration issues that we need to address that Biden has promised to address, and he really hasn’t.

Mitsuki: Again, I never really realized how complicated our visa system was. And you did an incredible job of presenting your argument. Is there maybe anything else that you wanted to include that you maybe couldn’t because of the word limit?

Ellie: There was definitely stuff that I thought would be interesting, like investor visas, and basically this whole economic background where there’s this reputation of the international student as having a lot of money [and] wearing a lot of designer [clothes] because you do need an incredible amount of money to come to the US and study. I think recently, Brown started need blind admissions for international students as well, which is really great. This is just another element where if you have more money, it’s just a lot easier to stay in the US once you graduate. I think that’s definitely an interesting element where there’s this whole economic aspect, not from the US benefiting, but also from the students who are then able to stay, kind of making equal opportunities for everybody.

Mitsuki: Oh, I see, so right now it’s very unbalanced. Is that what you’re saying? 

Ellie: Yeah. And there’s so much to it. But it’s just, of course, if you have more economic resources, the situation can be a lot easier to navigate. And it just ends up being that there are very capable people who just are not as lucky, and then they’re forced out more than other people.

Mitsuki: I think that was all the questions I had. If you made it to the end of this episode, don’t forget to read Ellie’s article in the Excess edition of the BPR magazine. It’s a super cool read, relevant especially because we are students at a university, and it’s titled. “We Want You, but You Just Can’t Stay.” Please consider following BPR podcasts wherever you get them, and please, please subscribe to the magazine for more amazing articles like Ellie’s. Thank you.