Sidebar: Foreign Students Fill Computer Science Graduate Programs

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An argument cited by H-1B supporters for raising the visa cap stems from the high number of foreign students -- especially from China and India -- who come to the U.S. to study.

Foreign student enrollments account for about 70% of the masters and Ph.D. computer science students at Texas Tech University, according to John Borrelli, dean of the graduate school at the 28,000-student university in Lubbock. Last year, the number of foreign students who applied for graduate admissions was more than three times the number of U.S. residents who did so, Borrelli said.

In 2001, the most recent year for which figures are available, foreign students made up nearly 60% of graduate enrollments nationwide, according to the National Science Foundation.

Borrelli said U.S. students aren't as interested in engineering and science studies as foreign students are. "We are not preparing our students out of high school to compete in the area of science and engineering very well," he said.

Most of the students enrolled in the New Jersey Institute of Technology's graduate program are foreign nationals. The Newark-based school has so far received 208 applications for admission in computer science master's degree programs next year, with about 165 of those applications from foreign students, said Stephen Seideman, dean of the school's college of computing science. The foreign students "will do everything they can to stay here," he said.

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Foreign Students Fill Computer Science Graduate Programs

American students are a minority of enrollments at some U.S. universities' computer science graduate programs.

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Typically, foreign graduates of U.S. universities get a one-year training visa after graduation and then seek an H-1B visa.

Rock Regan, former CIO for the state of Connecticut, said state agencies typically don't hire H-1B visa holders because of political concerns. But Regan thinks U.S. schools are "not putting out the number of qualified workers that the industry needs."

Despite the addition of 20,000 more visas for the current fiscal year, the H-1B cap is still less than half of its 195,000-visa peak. Regan suspects that the reduced number of visas will encourage offshore outsourcing of IT jobs. Offshoring "will become more of a reality if people can't get the talent here in the U.S.," he said.

Opponents see any increase in the number of visas as having an impact on the prospects of U.S. students. Norman Matloff, professor of computer science at the University of California, Davis, and a longtime critic of the H-1B visa program, said it's largely a matter of supply and demand. The more H-1B workers there are, the less opportunity there is for his students, Matloff said.

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