HRC picks sides with STEM


In order to accommodate the shortage of qualified American employees in industrial fields, Hillary Clinton has proposed to give green cards to international students who have advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Despite its potential benefits for the national economy, the bill inadvertently causes new problems: it diminishes individual freedom to explore education, initiates the unequal distribution of high-quality STEM workforce in the U.S. and in other developing countries and creates imbalanced industrial-economic and socio-cultural developments.

Even though media has exposed some of the ugly sides of the U.S. (i.e. social inequality, political corruption or enduring discrimination), it is still an ideal place for foreign students to live. The high standard of living and fairly democratic atmosphere attract students to stay here after finishing their study. Green cards offer holders residency and other benefits, such as employment and health care insurance. In addition to the legal privileges, it has other symbolic meanings, suggesting a sign of reward or encouragement for one’s achievement. Its perks, therefore, magnetize a large amount of foreign students to pursue STEM majors and avoid trying non-STEM subjects at the beginning of their college careers. However, such occurrence prevents personal exploration and lures international students to make possibly unfit long-term choices. The meaning of education and study abroad becomes career-oriented instead of stirring academic inquisition and adventure, not to mention the fact that foreign parents who want their kids to get American citizenship will pressure their children to follow STEM careers and ignore their personal interests. Individual passions and discovery are directly at stake if this policy gets passed.

The act of giving green cards to STEM advanced graduates may also have a toll on the broader economy. The problem with retaining all foreign STEM candidates for the U.S. is that it would create an unequal global STEM workforce and widen the economic gap between the U.S. and other developing countries. This certainly helps America maintain its high ranking in the world economy, but that domination is precarious. The global economic system is interconnected, and the collapse of one economy greatly affects the other economies.

Last but not least, the celebration of STEM graduates by giving them green cards instigates a culture of prioritizing industrial development over the humanities and arts and  triggers early career specialization that forces students to confine themselves within their professional boundaries. The lack of experience in various disciplines impedes STEM graduates’ understanding of perspectives, concern for social issues and insightful appreciation for arts. STEM fields and the humanities have gone hand-in-hand and have each supported growth of individuals and communities. The imbalance of an international workforce in these two fields, I could imagine, would bring us back to the era of Industrial Revolution in the 1860s, in which the country was economically prosperous but morally  rotten from the inside out.

As a sociology major from Vietnam, I think the green card is unfair for me and my other non-STEM peers who have overcome language barriers and worked very hard for these reading and writing-intensive majors. I believe that social and cultural enrichment should be as valued as industrial development. International students are great resources for this because they can contribute to world heritage. The green card for STEM relabels the importance of academic fields and makes us feel as if our majors are not worthwhile. The policy also leaves out personal efforts and assesses individuals solely by their majors. That said, I do not support this bill because it takes a toll on individual and socio-cultural development.