Eisgruber expresses ‘deep concerns’ over proposed changes on non-immigrant visas and training

In a letter sent Thursday to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber expressed “deep concerns” over changes the departments are considering on immigration rules.

The changes, Eisgruber said, “could significantly impede the ability of American institutions of higher education to attract and retain motivated and skilled individuals from other countries.”

“As a world-class research and educational institution, Princeton University depends on the inflow of talented people who want to be a part of our undergraduate and graduate student bodies, our faculty, and our research staffs,” the president wrote. “As such, I am particularly troubled by proposed changes to the J-1 exchange visa and Optional Practical Training (OPT) programs that could discourage many of those talented people from coming to the United States, or prevent them from staying in and making valuable contributions to our country.”

Eisgruber said America’s leadership depends on immigration to grow the economy, create jobs and make the country more globally competitive.

“At Princeton, many of our most prominent scholars, students, and alumni have been — or are still — immigrants,” he said. “More than half of our recent Nobel Prize winners were born outside the United States. We are proud of our Global Scholars Program, which enables us to recruit exceptional scholars from other nations and bring them to campus for multi-year teaching appointments.”

Eisgruber cited a National Science Foundation report that found U.S. college enrollment of international students is down for the first time in many years. “In an increasingly globalized economy, it is vital that our students be knowledgeable about, and comfortable interacting with, people from many different cultures.  If we are to remain a world leader in research, innovation and education, universities must be able to recruit the most qualified professors, students and researchers from around the world,” the president said.

Eisgruber took issue with a proposed state department rule that would create a presumption against waivers of a requirement that some J-1 visa recipients return home for two years before changing their immigration status or transferring to another type of visa in the United States. He also expressed concern about homeland security’s potential changes that could limit or curtail opportunities for students from other countries to supplement their education with on-the-job training in their fields.

“Immigration is an essential part of the American story, and many who have come to the U.S. from other countries have played a critical role in our nation’s success,” Eisgruber wrote. “Attracting the best talent, regardless of national origin, is essential to maintaining America’s status as the global leader in scholarship and research. As you consider these and other proposals, I urge you to think deeply about the long-term consequences — intentional or otherwise — that could result from policies that discourage foreign students and world-class experts from pursuing education and employment in the United States.”

The letter is the latest of several statements and appeals that Eisgruber has issued — including to Congress and President Trump —urging protection of immigrants.

In February, Eisgruber sent a letter to members of Congress urging them to pass legislation that would provide legal status for immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan living in the United States under Temporary Protected Status (TPS). He has also advocated for beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and those affected by Trump administration executive orders banning travel to the U.S. from certain Muslim-majority countries. In December, Eisgruber joined other college and university presidents and chancellors in becoming a founding member of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration.