Poster Paper: Visa Policy Changes and Post-Graduation Job Relatedness Among Foreign Doctorate Recipients: Evidence from the American Competitiveness Acts

Saturday, November 10, 2018
Exhibit Hall C - Exhibit Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Dafeng Xu, University of Minnesota

Many doctoral students face the career choice between academia and industry. However, after years of specialized training, many students ask a more fundamental question upon graduation: can I find a job related to my field of study? Things can be even more complicated for international students: the job offer and employment status---either in academia or in industry, regardless of job relatedness---are contingent upon the procurement of visa status for employment. Therefore, visa policy changes could potentially affect occupational choices of foreign doctorate recipients. In this paper, I study the H-1B program in the U.S. and examine effects of changes in H-1B's program rules around 2000 on foreign doctorate recipients' post-graduation job relatedness, and analyze possible mechanisms behind the effects.

The H-1B visa is a U.S. visa that allows U.S. employers to hire foreign workers. The Immigration Act of 1990 set a cap of 65,000 on new H-1B visas for each fiscal year. In 1998, the H-1B annual cap was temporarily increased to 115,000 for 1999 and 2000 by the American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act (ACWIA), and further increased to 195,000 for 2001, 2002, and 2003 by the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act (AC21) passed in October 2000. Moreover, the AC21 was the first immigration act that created an uncapped H-1B category for non-profit research organizations, such as universities. In this paper, I focus on the effects of these two acts. The H-1B cap returned to 65,000 (but with additional 20,000 visas for U.S. postgraduate degree recipients) in the H-1B Visa Reform Act of 2004.

To study the effects of visa policy changes under two American Competitiveness Acts on post-graduation job relatedness among foreign doctoral recipients in the U.S., I utilize the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) sample from 1995 and 2006, and focus on the most recent cohort of graduates in each sample. The year of graduation varies from 1990 (when H-1B visas became capped) to 2004 (when the H-1B Visa Reform Act was passed), and during this period of time, the ACWIA and AC21 came into effect. Pooling the above samples of recent doctoral recipients, I observe both citizens/permanent residents who need not to acquire visa status for employment and other foreigners who need visas to work in the U.S., and compare their post-graduation outcomes before and after visa policy changes were introduced by the ACWIA and AC21. I find that as the result of visa policy changes under American Competitiveness Acts, foreign doctorate recipients became more likely to take jobs related to their field of study, and this was associated with the rise in university employment. I further discuss the mechanisms behind the effects of visa policy changes on foreign doctorate recipients' job relatedness, and the empirical tests suggest that the creation of the uncapped H-1B category, rather than the increase in the H-1B cap, might play a more crucial role in affecting foreign doctorate recipients' post-graduation job relatedness.