Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and other top tech companies fight for international students in the US

Published July 14, 2020, 5:33 PM

by Kerry Tinga

Major American corporations back Harvard and MIT’s lawsuit against the latest restrictions on international students studying in the US

The biggest names in the tech industry have backed up higher education institutions in their ongoing lawsuit over the Trump administration’s latest restrictions on international students.

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency announced last week that international students taking fully online courses may have their visas revoked, and may not be allowed into the country. Harvard, one of the many schools that have planned to have a fully online upcoming semester due to the health crisis, jointly filed with MIT a lawsuit asking a federal judge to block the ruling.

“Now we are forced to choose between our health and our current future legal presence in the US,” says Janel Perez, a Filipino full-ride scholar at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. She is one of many current and incoming Filipinos affected by the new regulations. “Still, I am heartened to see the college-sponsored lawsuits filed to overturn this decree, but remain anxious for a positive solution.”

Tech firms file an amicus brief

Over 200 American schools have backed Harvard and MIT, and now tech giants like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft have added their voices to the legal action. In the court brief submitted in support of the lawsuit, the corporations echo the concerns of the schools. They argue that ICE and the Department of Homeland Security have not considered the detrimental effects the restrictions would have on the American economy and innovation.

Other signatories in the brief include Adobe Systems, Dropbox, GitHub, LinkedIn, PayPal, Salesforce, Spotify, Twitter, Box, and Boston Consulting Group.

The brief states that there are over one million international students in the US who contribute tens of billions to their economy. But they are so much more than their tuition money. They are the creatives, entrepreneurs, and developers of our future.

“Individuals who come here as international students are also essential to educating the next generation of inventors,” the brief reads. It cites that in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, almost a third of researchers in the US originally came as international students. 

The brief represents the voices of the leading tech firms of this generation that rely on the skill and talent international students bring to their projects and corporations. Silicon Valley and other tech hubs are built on immigrant innovation. More than half of American start-ups in 2017 were founded by immigrants. They are then powered by immigrant employees. In that same year, it was reported that over 70 percent of crucial executive roles were filled by immigrants. 

New perspectives lend themselves to brainstorming new ideas. Bring people from across the globe into one room and each person is bound to leave with a greater appreciation and understanding of their own individual challenges, having now considered it from another person’s point of view.

Bridges with US

“Even if individuals work for other companies outside the US,” the brief continues, “their education and work experience in the US enable them to serve effectively as ‘bridges’ between US and other businesses in foreign markets.”

According to an Open Doors report released in November of last year, there are over 3,300 Filipino students studying in an American college or university. The school year 2019-2020 was the third straight year that the number increased.

“Our countries share deep historical and cultural ties, and the Philippines is brimming with talent and opportunity,” US Embassy in the Philippines cultural affairs counselor Matt Keenar said at the time. “The US higher education system, with its unmatched quality and range of options, is a natural fit for Filipinos seeking an international education and we are ready to welcome the next generation of Filipino leaders.”

And the next generation of Filipino leaders are excited and ready to take advantage of the opportunities that the US can provide, if they are ever allowed back in. In the field of education, the past few years have seen young Filipinos with foreign education working hard to empower and educate the next generation.

Social entrepreneur Alex Eduque started the MovED Foundation, a non-profit focused on early childhood care and development, as an offshoot of her thesis as a student at Barnard College. The CEO of leading edtech firm Edukasyon.ph, Henry-Motte Muñoz founded his company after graduating from Harvard Business School under a scholarship. Clarissa Delgado of Teach for the Philippines started her work in education as a “bridge” between the Philippines and the US, managing randomized control trials in the Philippines for MIT’s Poverty Action Lab.

The brief submitted by top tech firms of the US has made clear that the objection against the restrictions to international students are not about the dollar amount that may be lost. It is about the value of the innovation and opportunities missed by keeping young, bright, optimistic students out and away from each other.