The need has never been greater for the Katz Award, now in its third year. Coverage of the important immigration issues over the past year ö temporary visas for high-tech workers, long-term detention of undeportable aliens, amnesty for illegal Central Americans, etc. ö all too often has been weighed down by treacle and cliche, with little of the discernment and inquisitiveness that marks good journalism.
The work of this year's honorees is an exception. Ed Timms, a national reporter at The Dallas Morning News, and Jayne Noble Suhler, who covers higher education at the paper, began looking into the impact of foreign students on native minorities. Their inquiry led to the issue of H-1B temporary visas for computer programmers, and continued evolving to encompass many of the issues surrounding higher-skilled immigrants. New to immigration, they quickly discovered the fog of euphemism and political posturing that pervades the issue and labored to set out the facts as best they could to promote rational discussion.
Their submission included pieces on security concerns related to foreign students, foreign physical and occupational therapists, foreign doctors, high-tech workers, and graduate students in the sciences. The judges decided that work of these two reporters showed both the enterprise and the mastery of details so important to effective coverage of immigration.
Center for Immigration Studies
Jayne Noble Suhler and Ed Timms Articles
1. Visitors overstay visa limits; But INS focus remains on U.S.-Mexico border
2. Cases highlight flaws in federal visa system; Officials blame cursory inspections
3. Security worries putting spotlight on student visas U.S. wants better monitoring
4. Foreign-trained doctors swelling ranks in U.S.; Physicians say they work where American practitioners won't, but fix is often short-term
5. High-tech layoffs cited in visa fight; Bid for foreign workers unrelated, industry says
6. Foreign physical therapists fail license test at high rate; Critics say some work with temporary permit
7. U.S. workers find foreigners filling tech jobs; Fairness of visa rules scrutinized
8. Foreigners far ahead in degrees; They lead U.S. minorities in getting science doctorates
Visitors overstay visa limits
But INS focus remains on U.S.-Mexico border
By Ed Timms and Jayne Noble Suhler
The Dallas Morning News
November 8, 1998
At least 40 percent of the noncitizens who stay in the United States illegally - and perhaps more than half - didn't sneak across the border.
They obtained a visa, promised to leave by a certain date and then didn't.
Belying commonly held stereotypes of "illegal aliens," they are ethnically diverse and often well-educated. Typically, federal authorities have no idea where they are.
Most "visa overstays" are in the United States for work. But a few also have been implicated in high-profile criminal and terrorist cases, including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and a 1997 plot to bomb New York's subway system.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service acknowledges that visa overstays are a problem, but most of its resources still are focused on the U.S.-Mexico border.
In 1996, Congress authorized the INS to hire 300 investigators to help seek out visa overstays. To date, those positions are unfilled. At the same time, Congress authorized the INS to develop an "entry-exit" computer system that would track when visa holders enter and leave the United States. Last month, Congress extended by 21/2 years the INS' deadline to have the system working.
"There's no good explanation for why they [INS officials] have been dragging their feet on entry-exit. There's no good explanation for why they haven't hired the number of investigators called for in the 1996 law," said U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, who heads the House Subcommittee on Immigration.
Some INS officials blame Congress in part for not funding its own mandates. Mr. Smith complains that the agency's budget has doubled in the last five years and he hasn't seen commensurate results.
The INS is sometimes portrayed as an agency facing an overwhelming task. Nearly 500 million foreigners and U.S. citizens enter this country every year, and trying to monitor them is not a simple matter. And every year, more than 1 million people are caught trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally; INS officials warn that taking away resources there would encourage even more to cross.
"We do not have the discretionary authority to shift resources and funds away from the buildup at the Southwest border," said INS spokesman Russ Bergeron. "And I don't want to imply that if we did, we necessarily would. You have to look at enforcement as a broad strategy. If your boat is sinking, you have two options: You can bail or you can try to plug the leaks."
For now, the INS is focused on trying to "plug" illegal entry along the U.S.-Mexico border. But the agency ultimately has plans to devote more resources on enforcement beyond the border.
Visa overstays were described as a "disturbing and persistent problem" in a recent report by the Justice Department's inspector general.
"Disturbing, because these visitors may be taking jobs and other benefits that by law are reserved for legal residents," the report concluded. "Persistent, because the Immigration and Naturalization Service . . . estimates that such visitors have accounted for a large part of the illegal alien population for many years and that this population is growing substantially each year."
Groups such as the League of United Latin American Citizens and the National Council of La Raza complain that the government's apparent preoccupation with mostly Hispanic border-crossers, and lack of interest in the more ethnically diverse visa overstays, is racially motivated. Even in the U.S. interior, the INS apprehends many more Hispanic border-crossers than visa overstays.
INS enforcement "inherently has a bias against people who "look' foreign and . . . people who tend to be low-skilled," said Joel Najar, immigration policy analyst for La Raza. With "day laborers hanging around on the corner, the assumption is that they're immigrants and they're undocumented."
And when the issue of undocumented immigration is portrayed, he said, "you don't hear about the Chinese student who's here on a student visa and overstays because of a job offer. You don't hear about the Indian temporary high-tech worker who is here on a three-year visa, but at the same time is trying to find a way to stay permanently and overstays."
Sarah Swenson, coordinator for the North Texas Immigration Coalition, argues that INS border enforcement policies fuel a public perception that the "only illegal immigrants are of Latin descent," when in fact many visa overstays are "white with blond hair and freckles."
"We often call attention to the fact that the second-largest group of undocumented in Los Angeles are Canadian, and you don't hear a hue and cry about the . . . Canadian illegal problem," said Cathi Tactaquin, director of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
Mr. Bergeron of the INS disputes such accusations and describes his agency as one of the most ethnically diverse in government.
"Everything we do is motivated by operational requirements and the realistic situations that face us," he said. "Yes, the vast majority we arrest are brown-skinned . . . but it's also a reality that the majority of aliens are brown-skinned and Hispanic."
Reasons other than racial discrimination may explain the INS enforcement patterns. Catching noncitizens trying to cross the border illegally is easier. Visa overstays tend to be more dispersed and harder to find.
Border enforcement has always "trumped" enforcement of overstays within the country, in part because internal enforcement is tougher politically, procedurally and constitutionally, said Michael Fix, an analyst at the Urban Institute, a Washington research organization that focuses on minority issues.
Visa overstays may enter the United States as tourists or business travelers. Or, they may get a student visa, never show up for classes, and enter the labor market instead, said Susan Martin, director of the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University in Washington. Some also are temporary workers who do not leave.
"Where you have to deal with the issue of illegal overstay is at the worksite, because the reason people are staying longer is because they're getting jobs," she said. But "as a nation, we have a basic ambivalence about workplace enforcement."
The 1997 Justice Department report described border-crossers as primarily unskilled laborers who tend to cluster in service industries. Overstays were described as generally more highly skilled and educated and dispersed throughout the economy - and more difficult to find.
"Most worksite enforcement cases are . . . based on tips received that particular businesses are employing illegal aliens," according to the report. "INS investigators generally direct their resources at locations where they can apprehend the most illegal aliens at one time . . ." and tend to apprehend mostly border-crossers.
Compounding the debate on illegal immigration are the limited tracking tools available to researchers and the difficulty developing solid statistics on a population that doesn't want to be found.
Experts believe that most border-crossers and visa overstays work for a time in the United States and then return to their home countries. Others die while in the United States. Still others become legal residents.
By some estimates, the net increase in the number of noncitizens who illegally stay in the United States is 200,000 to 300,000 annually. According to one INS estimate, at least 41 percent are overstays; other estimates place the number at more than half.
A frequently cited statistic is that more than 1 million people are apprehended along the U.S.-Mexico border every year.
"Virtually all of the INS apprehensions are temporary labor migrants who are caught more than once by the INS and who do not intend to live in the United States in any case," according to a 1994 Urban Institute report on immigration. "A large reverse flow into Mexico goes virtually unnoticed and unreported."
Many critics of the government's enforcement policies say they don't support illegal immigration. But they do want equitable enforcement.
"They shouldn't be pouring so much resources into the border and not doing anything on the visa side," said Brent Wilkes, executive director of LULAC. "And there certainly appears to be bias against Mexico, against Hispanics."
Cases highlight flaws in federal visa system
Officials blame cursory inspections
By Jayne Noble Suhler and Ed Timms
The Dallas Morning News
November 8, 1998
When Lafi Khalil sought a visa at the American Consular Office in Jerusalem, the interview and review process took no more than three minutes.
The consular office did not verify information he provided on the application form. Mr. Khalil failed to list his home address, home or business telephone numbers, or how he would support himself while in the United States. He didn't sign the form. Neither did the consular officer.
When he arrived in New York, an inspector with the Immigration and Naturalization Service didn't notice that Mr. Khalil had been granted a "transit visa," purportedly for a trip to Ecuador. Instead, the inspector admitted Mr. Khalil with a "tourist visa" stamp in his passport, which authorized him to remain in the United States for six months.
That was on Dec. 7, 1996. More than seven months later, Mr. Khalil was implicated in a plot to bomb New York's subway system and was arrested in a Brooklyn apartment.
"After Khalil entered the United States . . . he had no further contact with the INS until his arrest . . ." according to a 1998 report by the Justice Department's inspector general. "As is typical with most visa overstays, the INS made no attempt to locate Khalil and deport him."
Critics say that Mr. Khalil's case demonstrates how easy it is to obtain a temporary visa, enter the United States, and stay.
And Mr. Khalil is not alone.
Hany Mahmoud Kiareldeen was arrested and accused of violating the terms of his tourist visa earlier this year. Federal officials suspect that he made a threat against the life of Attorney General Janet Reno and had contact with suspects in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. He's in custody in New Jersey.
Eyad Ismoil, the man convicted of driving the explosives-laden van in the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, entered the United States on a student visa and overstayed.
Mir Aimal Kasi, convicted last year of capital murder in the 1993 shooting deaths of two CIA employees outside the agency's headquarters in Langley, Va., submitted false information to obtain a visa.
Federal authorities say that organized crime figures, drug traffickers and even spies from a variety of countries have misused visas to enter the United States.
INS officials say the vast majority of visa holders don't overstay and don't pose a threat, but they do acknowledge a problem. Federal agencies are taking steps to reduce the potential threat but face significant hurdles in dealing with visa holders - as well as noncitizens who illegally cross the border.
Some terrorist experts point to factors that make the United States vulnerable to visa misuse. They assert that screening by consular officials is often cursory, as is inspection by INS officials once visa holders enter the country. And, after they enter, those who overstay - or lied to get in - can't be tracked.
U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, said the nation's visa system is an invitation to noncitizens who have no intention of leaving, including would-be terrorists and drug smugglers.
"Considering how easy it is to enter . . . I guess the surprise is . . . a greater percentage of illegal aliens have not come in on a visa and then failed to return to their home country," he said.
Security worries putting spotlight on student visas
U.S. wants better monitoring
By Ed Timms and Jayne Noble Suhler
The Dallas Morning News
September 20, 1998
Every year, thousands of foreign citizens enter the United States on student visas.
Most go to class and obtain a degree. But others never see a campus - or drop out after a brief time - and find employment in the nation's underground economy. And a few become criminals, terrorists or spies.
Once in the country, there is little if any communication between educational institutions and the U.S. government about the whereabouts or activities of most foreign students. Federal authorities acknowledge that at any given time, they do not know exactly how many student visa holders are in the country or how many have left.
Rising international tensions have heightened concerns over the potential access of would-be terrorists to the United States.
The misuse of student visas is not hypothetical. Eyad Ismoil, convicted of driving the explosives-laden van in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, entered the United States on a student visa. So have drug dealers and individuals sent by hostile governments to obtain sensitive information that can be used to develop weapons of mass destruction, according to government documents.
Authorities are continuing to investigate the past of Wadih el Hage, an Arlington man who was arrested Wednesday in New York in connection with the August bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kenya.
Mr. el Hage attended the University of Southwestern Louisiana from 1978 to 1986, but an official in the registrar's office said his visa status was not reflected in their records.
Some educators argue that their mission is to teach and keep track of students' academic records - not monitor their private lives.
"We wouldn't know whether a student is a secret terrorist or whether they watch bats in their spare time," said Catheryn Cotten, director of international students at Duke University in Durham, N.C. The school is part of a pilot program, coordinated by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, seeking to provide better monitoring of international students.
Federal officials acknowledge problems with some student visas and say they are taking steps to reduce threats to national security.
"The small minority that do not comply are a major problem," said Thomas W. Simmons, a senior Immigration and Naturalization Service official. " . . . One terrorist is one too many because he can cause tremendous damage."
In July, a report by the federal Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States warned that in part, "the acquisition and use of transferred technologies in ballistic missile and WMD [weapons of mass destruction] has been facilitated by foreign students training in the U.S."
In February, Dale Watson, now a deputy assistant director in the FBI's national security division, noted that 419 student visas were issued to new and returning students from Iran, identified by the U.S. State Department as a state that sponsors terrorism.
"A significant number of these individuals are hard-core members of the pro-Iranian student organization known as the Anjoman Islamie, which is comprised almost exclusively of fanatical, anti-American Iranian Shiite Muslims," Mr. Watson testified. "The Iranian government relies heavily on these students studying in the United States for low-level intelligence and technical expertise."
Mr. Watson also warned that the Anjoman Islamie "provides a significant resource base which allows the government of Iran to maintain the capability to mount operations against the United States, if it is so decided."
In 1997, more than 800 student visas were issued to citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria - all designated by the U.S. State Department as states that support terrorism.
Mr. Watson told The Dallas Morning News that more resources are being dedicated to thwarting individuals with something other than education in mind when they apply for a student visa.
"We're not concerned with Iranian students who come here to study French History form 1840 to 1850, but we are concerned about Iranians who come here to study chemical, biological or nuclear engineering," he said.
But he emphasized that just because someone from a country that sponsors terrorism seeks a student visa, that "doesn't necessarily mean that they're a bad person." Law enforcement, he said, must balance "protections under the Constitution with national security concerns."
Mr. Simmons of the INS said he does not believe that people holding student visas pose any greater threat than those in other non-immigrant categories. In fact, he said, many of those holding visas from terrorist-supporting states may be opponents of those regimes and embrace "the democratic ideals of our country."
"But there is no question that nonimmigrant visas, including student visas, are at times used by persons who do not have our best interests at heart and indeed come in and engage in criminal activity and espionage and possible terrorist acts," he said.
In 1996, FBI director Louis Freeh testified before Congress that "some foreign governments task foreign students specifically to acquire information on a variety of technical subjects" and "upon completion of their studies, some foreign students are then encouraged to seek employment with U.S. firms to steal proprietary information."
"It is, especially since the India-Pakistan nuclear tests . . . an area of very serious concern and serious scrutiny," a State Department spokeswoman said of student visas.
But at a time when law enforcement officials are trying to find ways to reduce the potential threat, foreign students are a hot commodity and growth industry for universities and even junior colleges that actively recruit overseas. International students bring diversity to campuses and, for some, help bolster enrollment.
Some students pay for their education, while others qualify for scholarships and work on campus to earn money.
"The vast majority of students who come here on the F1 [student visa] come here to be good students, enroll in school and get degrees," said Ms. Cotten at Duke. Foreign students, especially in graduate programs, are praised for their work ethic and abilities.
"I'm sure the universities see the students as a short-term financial benefit," said William Graham, a member of the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States. "Many of these students are more mature, they have more experience . . . many of them are hard working, extremely smart. . . . The question is, who is looking out for the security interests of the United States in this process? The answer is, no one."
Concern about misuse of student visas is not new. During the Iranian hostage crisis, President Carter directed the Immigration and Naturalization Service to determine how many Iranian students were in the country and learned that the agency couldn't.
Efforts to improve the monitoring of student visa holders during the 1980s fell short.
"Both technology and resources of the immigration service did not enable us to implement something . . . that could bring up data very quickly," Mr. Simmons said.
Ms. Cotten described past attempts to computerize the INS over the years as "a colossal failure."
But lessons from that experience have been applied to a new program coordinated by INS. Duke University is among 22 institutions in the southeastern United States participating in the Coordinated Interagency Partnership Regulating International Students, or CIPRIS.
Students receive ID cards that detail information on their status in a bar code, including their major field of study and status on campus.
Improved computer technology may give CIPRIS an edge over earlier attempts to process the massive amount of data needed to monitor foreign students.
Within a few years, a variation of CIPRIS may be used by institutions throughout the country. But for now, most must rely on a process that has many detractors.
Potential students apply to a university and must gain admittance before they seek a visa. They are provided a form that details their planned course of study and finances. With that form and a letter of acceptance from the university, the potential student applies for a visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consular Office. If granted, the visa is issued by the U.S. Department of State.
Consular officers screen all visa applicants, using interagency databases, on a case-by-case basis. But those holding passports from countries known to be hostile to the United States, are subjected to additional scrutiny: For example, a visa application from an Iraqi citizen must be approved by Washington officials.
Dr. Graham, a former science adviser to President Reagan, advocates a broader review by agencies that are more familiar with the potential threat that foreign students may represent, including the Defense Department and perhaps the Department of Energy.
The State Department is "not skilled in understanding the implications - in terms of military technology - of the visas they issue," he said.
He also favors more scrutiny of students once they arrive in the United States.
CIPRIS tracks whether graduate students change their field of study, but it is almost impossible to monitor what undergraduates are studying, said Ms. Cotten.
"There really is nothing preventing someone from majoring in medieval poetry and then taking a couple of courses in physics on the side," she said.
At schools that are not participating in CIPRIS, some experts say that foreign students can change to a another field of study, transfer or even drop out - without anyone in government knowing.
If students indicate that they intend to study textile engineering "and once they reach the university they decide their real interest is in nuclear engineering, in general that is not reported back to the U.S. government," said Dr. Graham, who is also a former NASA deputy administrator.
Dr. Graham said that the nation's universities have trained students from countries that support terrorism and "as far as I know, no one outside the university knows that they're studying."
In February, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told a Senate subcommittee on terrorism that between 1991 and 1996, the State Department had issued nearly 10,000 visas to students from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan and Libya.
According to statistics compiled by the Institute of International Education, students from those countries gravitate toward science and engineering programs. So do students from Pakistan and India - two countries that have recently demonstrated nuclear capability. For example, more than half of all students from Iran were enrolled in science, math or engineering disciplines during the 1995-96 school year.
U.S.-trained scientists reportedly have worked on Iraq's nuclear
and biological weapons programs, and on India's nuclear program.
According to FBI officials, studying in the United States, and bringing information back home, is an alternative to compulsory military service for one country. In some cases, law enforcement officials say, students have worked for professors in the United States for free, while being financed by their governments, in order to participate in certain research projects.
"We know for a fact that there are organizations - that are funded by a state sponsor of terrorism . . . that fund students coming to the United States. And that is part of their intelligence organization," Mr. Watson said.
Sermsri Wangpatravanich from Bangkok attends the University of North Texas, where she majors in business and computer information systems.
International students who try to abuse the process are in the minority, she said, but they give all students a bad reputation.
"Others have to pay for it," she said.
Staff writer Steve McGonigle contributed to this report.
Foreign-trained doctors swelling ranks in U.S.
Physicians say they work where American practitioners won't, but fix is often short-term
By Jayne Noble Suhler and Ed Timms
The Dallas Morning News
July 19, 1998
Foreign-trained doctors have contributed to a dramatic increase in the number of physicians in the United States at a time when U.S. medical schools are limiting enrollment and experts warn of an oversupply.
At the same time, many who live in underserved areas - the inner city and rural America - are having a harder time finding a doctor than they did a decade ago.
For years, foreign-trained doctors and the U.S. medical community have found themselves in a symbiotic, but uneasy, relationship.
Many foreign-trained doctors are enticed by the prospect of furthering their education at U.S. residency programs. And American hospitals often turn to such doctors to fill vacancies, a way of protecting the federal funding
they receive for residency slots.
Foreign-trained doctors have helped slow the decline of health care in underserved areas, but it's often been a short-term fix - like pouring water into a very leaky bucket.
"That's not to say there are none where they're needed." said Don Detmer, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. "But if you look at the best data that we've got, with a huge increase in international graduates, we actually have worsening access."
Although the number of foreign-trained doctors entering U.S. residencies has more than doubled in the last decade, the number of U.S. medical graduates in those programs has remained relatively stable.
Foreign-trained doctors defend their contributions and counter that many U.S. doctors are more worried about their pocketbooks than the nation's health-care needs.
U.S.-trained doctors traditionally have gravitated toward more lucrative specialties and have sought to practice in more affluent urban and suburban areas. Many have spurned lower-paying fields such as primary care and family medicine, and foreign-trained doctors often have filled the void.
But the same perks that draw U.S. graduates to the big city and the suburbs also beckon foreign-trained physicians. They often leave underserved areas after a few years in favor of more profitable locations.
That has contributed to an oversupply of doctors in some communities. But more doctors may not translate into cheaper costs and better care. Experts say new doctors may have difficulty competing with more established practices. Financially strapped doctors may be more inclined to suggest unnecessary treatments. And the best doctors are often the ones who keep their skills honed by staying busy.
Many U.S. experts contend that foreign graduates are not the answer to regional shortages.
Some suggest expanding the National Health Service Corps, which offers medical students financial aid in return for a commitment to work in underserved areas for a limited period. Funding for the program was reduced in the 1980s.
Medical schools offer similar loans and are requiring students to take more classes that focus on family practice and primary care - the specialties most needed in underserved areas.
U.S. medical schools are limiting admissions in part because of a projected physician oversupply that some experts attribute to foreign doctors. That, some experts say, makes it harder for underrepresented minorities to gain a foothold in the profession.
Data have "clearly indicated that African-American and Hispanic physicians are more likely than nonminorities to see Medicaid patients and to practice in parts of the country that are underserved," said Ciro Sumaya, dean of Texas A&M University's school of rural public health and a former deputy assistant secretary for health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Relatively few medical students of any ethnicity come from rural areas or inner cities.
"You know if somebody grows up in New York City, they're not going to practice in Weeping Water, Nebraska," said Neal Vanselow, a professor at Tulane University Medical Center. "You've got to get kids who've grown up in rural areas."
And, he added, there are other factors that work against keeping doctors from serving in needy areas: a lack of good schools, cultural activities and employment opportunities for spouses.
Those concerns are not unique to U.S. graduates.
Vijay Koli, a native of India who also was educated in Russia and Great Britain, began practicing medicine in the small Texas town of Goldthwaite in 1978 after he saw an advertisement in a British medical journal. But he left about four years later to open a practice in San Antonio.
"It was a very rewarding experience, and I still have many friends," said Dr. Koli, 55. "But my wife is a psychiatrist and she was getting uncomfortable sitting at home doing nothing. So she came to San Antonio to further her training."
Dr. Koli, an internist, tried commuting for more than a year but finally moved to San Antonio permanently, even though "the town was willing to do anything to keep me there."
Sometimes, no enticement is enough. But Busharat Ahmad, who until recently headed the American Medical Association's International Medical Graduates Section, suggests that for many doctors, whether U.S. or foreign-trained, more money and other financial incentives would help.
Rural or inner-city physicians may earn $40,000 to $50,000 less than they would elsewhere.
"The best thing to do would be to make the jobs competitive, and more people would go . . . if they want them to stay, then they have to pay them more money," Dr. Ahmad said.
Jordan J. Cohen, president of the American Association of Medical Colleges, calls the geographic imbalance a "recalcitrant problem."
He does not advocate an abrupt cutoff of foreign-trained doctors. Particularly in the inner city, he said, "there really is a serious dilemma if one were to cut off foreign medical graduates and not have a system in place to have alternative care providers . . . It would be disastrous."
Still, some of the nation's largest medical associations, including Dr. Cohen's, are recommending that foreign-educated physicians not receive training at the expense of U.S. taxpayers. They also support other measures that would reduce the number of foreign-trained physicians.
The U.S. government and medical community have taken steps that could limit the number of foreign-trained doctors practicing in this country.
Earlier this month, the United States began administering the Clinical Skills Assessment to foreign-trained doctors seeking residencies. The test, which costs the candidate about $1,200, is given only to foreign-trained doctors and only in Philadelphia.
Venkata Ram, a professor and director of hypertension clinics at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, calls the test "arbitrary and capricious."
Foreign graduates already must pass the same licensure exam as U.S. graduates as well as an English proficiency test, said Dr. Ram, a past president of the American Association of Physicians from India.
"The stated goal [for the test] is to recruit physicians who speak English, but it appears to be a case . . . of limiting the workforce," Dr. Ram said.
Congress also recently imposed a cap on the number of Medicare-funded residency slots - a major draw for foreign-trained doctors.
Medicare, the largest source of funding, pays more than $2 billion annually for residencies. Each year since World War II, residencies have gone unfilled.
"The fact that there are still more residency slots available than there are U.S. medical students to fill them tends to pull international medical graduates to this country . . . " said Dr. Stan Bastacky, a Health and Human Services Department official. "I think it has to do with Medicare funding for these positions and the way that things have been set up, at least in the past. There was almost an incentive for hospitals to have more [residents] because they were paid more money."
Currently, there are about 40 percent more residency slots each year than there are new graduates from U.S. medical schools. Some doctors and educators believe the gap should close to about 10 percent, still leaving room for a greatly reduced number of foreign graduates.
"Everybody agrees . . . that we have the best training in the world and it's important that we train people from other countries," said Lynne Kirk, associate dean for graduate medical education at UT Southwestern.
Many foreign doctors who train in the United States take their skills back to their home countries, sometimes becoming national leaders.
But by some estimates, three out of four foreign doctors ultimately stay in the United States. Some enter the country on temporary visas, but are able to get their status changed. Some are legal residents. Others are U.S. citizens who get government loans, train overseas, and routinely have the lowest pass rate on licensing exams.
The Department of Education is currently reviewing the credentials of foreign medical schools. U.S. students who attend schools that fall short may not be eligible for loans.
"Offshore schools are there to make money and they're just graduating kids by the hundreds and the thousands," said Dr. Ahmad, a Michigan ophthalmologist. " . . . Loans are fine if you are in this country, not abroad."
Some doctors sympathize with their foreign colleagues who want to stay in the United States and say many are excellent physicians. But they also suggest they may be needed more elsewhere.
"If anything, these physicians are at least equally needed if not more needed in their own home countries," Dr. Detmer said. "There's no reason to justify a brain drain to the U.S."
In a nation of immigrants, however, foreign doctors say they fill a niche that U.S.-trained physicians can't.
Chinese patients, for instance, "have few doctors to help them and who know their language," said Yan Li, who received his medical degree in Beijing and a doctorate in the United States. "I also bring special skills . . . I can do, for instance, acupuncture."
Dr. Li recently completed a family practice residency at Parkland Hospital and is now practicing at a Richardson clinic that serves a largely affluent Asian community.
Ultimately, those who settle in the United States may find themselves just as worried about the project glut of doctors as their U.S. trained colleagues.
"That has caused some concern, even to some of our families whose children are now U.S. citizens and have gone to U.S. medical schools," Dr. Koli.
Dr. Koli and Dr. Ahmad both say they are concerned about what they see as evidence of xenophobia and discrimination in the discussions about foreign-trained doctors.
Dr. Ahmad said he is not advocating "unlimited immigration" but suggests that market forces may ultimately offer the most effective response to any real or imagined oversupply.
High-tech layoffs cited in visa fight
Bid for foreign workers unrelated, industry says
By Ed Timms and Jayne Noble Suhler
The Dallas Morning News
June 17, 1998
More than 121,000 American workers have been laid off by prominent high-tech or "high-tech dependent" companies at a time when industry officials are clamoring for more foreign workers, a key congressman said Tuesday.
San Antonio Republican Lamar Smith, who heads the House subcommittee on immigration, cited the statistics to support his effort to make companies promise they have actively recruited American workers and have not fired them to make room for foreign "H1-B" visa recipients.
Mr. Smith's comments Tuesday added fire to the debate over plans to increase the number of foreign high-tech workers allowed in the country. The Senate already has passed legislation that could increase the cap on H1-B visas from 65,000 to 95,000 in 1998 and up to 115,000 until 2002. The House is considering similar legislation with additional provisions to protect American workers.
Also on Tuesday, high-tech industry officials turned out in force in Washington to lobby for the higher cap. They said that Americans are not losing jobs to foreign workers.
Industry leaders argue that the United States needs the foreign workers to maintain its competitive edge in the high-tech industry. Critics counter that U.S. corporations are using cheaper foreign labor to depress the job market and to replace more expensive middle-aged employees.
American angst over foreign labor is not unique to high-tech workers. In Flint, Mich., autoworkers are striking in part because of fears that they will lose jobs to workers at overseas plants.
"The issues here in Flint underscore the point that in GM's "America Last' strategy, communities like Flint and elsewhere stand to lose out as GM downsizes to take advantage of poverty-level wages in other countries," United Auto Workers vice president Richard Shoemaker said in a recent statement.
High-tech companies warn that if they can't bring more foreign workers to fill jobs in this country, they may be forced to move operations overseas.
Mr. Smith supports increasing the number of visas for foreign high-tech workers "because advances in computer technology have been important to America's economic growth." But he also wants companies to swear that they have actively sought to hire Americans and aren't firing them and then replacing them with foreign workers.
In the last six months, he said, prominent companies that hire large numbers of engineers and other high-tech workers "have laid off more Americans . . . than the number of new temporary foreign workers called for by House legislation during the next three years."
He said the list of companies he released Tuesday is not comprehensive, but a "good sampling." The source of the list was Challenger, Grey and Christmas, a Chicago-based firm that tracks workforce trends.
"We're more than doubling the number of H1-Bs over a three-year period, and it seems to me that they ought to be willing to safeguard American jobs," Mr. Smith said. "I just don't have any good explanation for why they don't want to be on the side of American workers."
Jerry Jasinowski, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, argued that H1-B visa holders are not taking away jobs from U.S. workers but are "filling vacancies that otherwise would remain unfilled."
"We'd be happy to hire a U.S. citizen rather than a foreign national," said Dan Larson, director of government and media relations for Texas Instruments. "We'd prefer it, in fact, because it's expensive to go through the process of hiring a foreign national."
But because foreign students dominate many science graduate programs in the United States, "the pot you have to draw from is limited in terms of the number of Americans that you can hire."
Valentina Videva, an American-trained engineer for Texas Instruments, said at the Washington news conference that she did not want to return to her war-torn homeland, Macedonia.
"America has become my home, and I want to give something back," she said.
Sandy Boyd, director of employment policy for the National Association of Manufacturers, said that people who are laid off "will be absorbed very quickly into this economy . . . if they have good skills and they're well-educated."
Paul Kostek, president-elect of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, said high-tech workers who are middle-aged - at least by industry standards - are hardest hit.
"We're seeing people in their late 30s, 40s, 50s who are having difficulty finding positions," he said. He added that younger workers and foreign workers are often cheaper and seen by corporations as being more flexible and easier to relocate.
Cynthia Walsh's 43-year-old husband, a physicist with a doctorate, has moved five times since 1993 in search of a good job opportunity.
Companies find foreign workers to be a cheaper and more "compliant" source of labor than Americans, said Ms. Walsh, a lawyer and a former board member for the Association of Concerned Engineers, which has merged with the the American Engineering Association.
Bill Reed, president of the Fort Worth-based American Engineering Association, said he wasn't surprised by the figures released by Mr. Smith's office.
The high-tech industry "is a hot market; there's always a lot of turnover," he said. But companies are laying off American workers, particularly older workers, in order to keep labor costs down.
Foreign physical therapists fail license test at high rate
Critics say some work with temporary permit
By Ed Timms and Jayne Noble Suhler
The Dallas Morning News
April 25, 1998
The majority of foreign-trained physical therapists who try to get licensed each year in the United States flunk a national exam.
At the same time, most U.S.-trained therapists pass the test, according to the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. From 1993 through 1997, at least four out of every five U.S. candidates passed, and well over half of the foreign candidates failed.
But failing the test doesn't mean foreign therapists are out of a job. Critics complain that some continue to work with a temporary license, sometimes shunting from state to state. Concerns about high failure rates prompted Texas to tighten its licensing.
Drawn by job opportunities, thousands of foreign-trained physical and occupational therapists have come to this country in recent years on temporary work visas.
"It is an outrage that our health dollars - some of it from Medicaid and Medicare taxpayer programs - are being spent on therapists that can't pass licensing exams, and that . . . patients don't even know it," said U.S. Rep. Ron Klink, D-Pa., who has raised concerns about the controversial work visa program. "Physical therapy firms are getting rich while Americans are getting substandard care. Something is wrong here."
Those who recruit and hire foreign physical therapists say they also are disturbed by the statistics. They say foreign therapists fill a critical need, particularly in rural communities and inner-city neighborhoods that have difficulty attracting health-care professionals. And they worry that the failure rate reflects badly on qualified foreign therapists.
Congress is holding hearings on the "H1-B" work visa program - which most commonly involves high-tech workers and both occupational and physical therapists. San Antonio Republican Lamar Smith's House subcommittee on immigration is expected to take on the issue of therapists next week.
Professional groups typically do not dispute that there was a shortage of physical and occupational therapists - and perhaps still is - but point to projections of a future glut. Responding to the shortage in the 1980s, many U.S. universities began expanding their therapy programs and are now graduating substantially more students.
"We have more than enough domestic programs," said Kathryn Pontzer, a spokeswoman for the American Occupational Therapy Association. "There's nothing unique about the training that would require us to look for occupational therapists trained overseas."
A study by the American Physical Therapy Association concluded that the United States is likely to have an 11 percent surplus of physical therapists by 2000 and a 20 to 30 percent surplus by 2007.
Although some rural areas still are in need of physical therapists, "We don't have a critical shortage," said Barbara Sanders, who heads the physical therapy department at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos. And as the market tightens, other therapists said, even that shortage is likely to evaporate.
But some dispute those numbers.
"They're ignoring the demographic reality of what's happening in this country," said Jose Latour, a Florida immigration attorney. "If you look at what's happening, we are living longer, which means that the demand for rehab is going to go up dramatically."
While the population ages, health-care providers are looking for cheaper and less labor-intensive ways to treat patients. Some therapists fear that trend may be to the detriment of the patients.
Like American workers in the high-tech industry, U.S.-trained therapists worry that their future earning potential, and perhaps their jobs, are threatened by legislation that could substantially raise the number of foreign workers allowed into the country.
One proposal before Congress calls for creating a new visa category (H1-C) for health-care workers that could increase the number of therapists allowed into the country, while leaving room for more high-tech workers in the H1-B category.
U.S. Department of Labor officials are dubious that there's a crisis that demands such measures. They say businesses and academia adjust to the ups and downs of the job market and that the H1-B work visa program has been abused.
"There's absolutely no reason why this country can't produce therapists on a sustaining basis," said Raymond Uhalde, the Department of Labor's acting assistant secretary for employment and training administration. "But you do get companies hooked on these sources of labor."
Doug Pendry, vice president of Health Professionals International, an Illinois firm that employs foreign therapists, counters that "using foreign labor is a last resort," in part because of the expense and paperwork involved.
"If someone can hire a therapist domestically, they [employers] will do that 10 times out of 10 if the therapist is available," he said.
Whether the motivation is a shortage or cost, foreign therapists are widely employed - even those who can't get a permanent license.
Foreign therapists often work for corporations that provide contract or temporary labor to health-care facilities.
Professional groups and some health-care executives say that those who fail the national test sometimes are moved from state to state so they can get temporary licenses and keep working, a legally gray practice known as the "underground."
Foreign therapists with a temporary license can get a one-year work visa. Technically, they can be in compliance by always having at least one valid temporary license while moving from state to state, so long as their employers notify the INS when their work site has changed.
"They've met the requirement of the visa as long as they have a temporary license," said Russ Bergeron, a spokesman for the INS in Washington. "If they choose to go from state to state to state taking tests until they pass one, that's not in violation of their visa status."
Mr. Bergeron said the INS lacks the resources to track individual holders of H1-B visas and added that the agency receives few complaints.
The number of violations involving H1-Bs was unavailable. Among all the categories of visas, the INS in 1996 identified 186 foreign nationals in violation.
"That clearly demonstrates you don't have a significant problem with H1-B's running around in violation," Mr. Bergeron said.
But professional groups and industry executives say there are problems that need to be addressed.
Mr. Latour, the Florida immigration attorney, said most firms that recruit and employ foreign therapists are legitimate and recognize they would have "tremendous problems" if they violated the visa requirements. But he added that some former clients, whom he stopped representing, did not want to comply. And he suspects that a high percentage of foreign therapists who fail the licensing exam have remained in the country illegally.
"There are recruiters . . . that break every rule in the book. . . . They hurt the industry as a whole," said Mr. Pendry, who also is vice president of the Association of International Healthcare Recruiters and Employers. The organization was formed "to deal with that reputation," he said.
Mr. Pendry is a staunch defender of many foreign therapists, who he praises as excellent practitioners. But practitioners from some countries tend to have more problems than others.
"We've never recruited from the Philippines or Egypt or Colombia because it's not good business," Mr. Pendry said. "If I place a therapist in a facility and one day they take the test and the results come back and they can't practice the next day, then that client doesn't want to work with me again."
O'Grady-Peyton International, a Boston-based recruitment company, only brings foreign nurses and therapists into the country after they have passed their licensing examinations. That requires an earlier visit on a temporary visa to take the test. Those who fail aren't hired.
In many states, physical therapists can work from six to 18 months on a temporary license without passing the exam.
With those therapists working, their employers have "got at least six months of revenue and will have recouped their original costs," said Dec Mullarkey, O'Grady's chief executive officer.
"[Some would] actually rather bring them here, get them working . . . and sometimes roll them from state to state until they actually pass," he said.
The high test failure rate for foreign therapists reflects poorly on those who pass and excel.
Gomaa Ibrahim, a physical therapist from Egypt, said he is "tired of the criticism."
Mr. Ibrahim said that although the licensing exam was tough, he passed it on his first try about three years ago. He now works as a supervisor for a Northport, Fla., firm that provides physical therapy services to hospitals and nursing homes.
"I have friends who had to go for the exam four or five times," said Mr. Ibrahim. He said the language barrier is "a major obstacle in passing the exam" for many foreign physical therapists.
The percentage of newly certified occupational therapists who were foreign-trained rose from 3 percent in 1985 to more than 20 percent in 1995, the American Occupational Therapy Association noted in recent Senate testimony.
The percentage dropped to 14 percent in 1997. Some say new English language proficiency requirements mandated by National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy was a major factor.
Several groups have advocated reforms that would reduce the time a foreign therapist can work with a temporary license or issue work visas only to those who have passed the licensing exams.
Texas tightened its policy on temporary licenses for physical therapists in the early 1990s, eliminating a second temporary license for anyone who flunked the national test. That move came after officials determined that in one instance all but one of 75 candidates who failed the test were foreign trained.
Scores on the physical therapy test for U.S.-trained and foreign-trained therapists in Texas are now comparable.
"We're not having any problems specifically with foreign-trained folks who come in here to get licensed," said Mark Turek, chief investigator for both the Texas Board of Physical Therapy Examiners and the Texas Board of Occupational Therapy Examiners. "And once licensed, we're not having any more problems with them than we're having with anybody else."
U.S. workers find foreigners filling tech jobs
Fairness of visa rules scrutinized
By Jayne Noble Suhler and Ed Timms
The Dallas Morning News
April 19, 1999
For the nation's high-tech industry, foreign workers are the answer to a critical shortage of skilled high-tech labor.
But as industry leaders lobby Congress to increase the number of noncitizens granted work visas, critics charge that U.S. corporations are depressing the job market with cheap foreign labor. They say the noncitizens are being treated as indentured servants and are displacing U.S. workers.
The U.S. Department of Labor is seeking changes to address what it sees as fundamental flaws in the visa program.
"There's no way to explain to people how it is that U.S. employers can reach out to India or Bangladesh or China or any other foreign country without even trying to find a U.S. worker to fill the job," said John Fraser, acting administrator of the Labor Department's wage and hour division. "And there's absolutely no way to explain to people why a U.S. employer can fire or lay off U.S. workers and replace them with foreign workers. That's just ill-conceived public policy."
Earlier this month, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill that would raise the annual cap on the "H1-B" work visas from 65,000 to 95,000 in 1998 and up to 105,000 until 2002. The House immigration subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, is scheduled to hold hearings on the issue this week.
In testimony and in a lobbying blitz, industry groups say that to stay competitive in the world market, they need more highly skilled workers - and that there aren't enough qualified U.S. citizens to go around. Industry leaders point out that the H1-B visa holders represent only a fraction of the millions of high-tech workers in the United States.
"Clearly we're an industry that's been growing rapidly, and we're an industry that is driving the U.S. economy," said Michaela Platzer, vice president of the American Electronics Association, an industry advocacy group. "As American companies move forward, you've got to be able to retain the best and the brightest. You've really got to get the top 10 percent - no matter where they're located."
Government officials predict that all 65,000 H1-B visas for 1998 will be granted by the end of May, well before the end of the fiscal year.
Nearly 45 percent of the visas go to workers in computer-related fields, including programmers and engineers. At the same time, analysts say that the industry is slowing and that several major companies have announced layoffs in recent months.
War of words
Debate over the H1-B visa program has pitted rock-ribbed Republicans and free-for-all Libertarians against labor-friendly Democrats and U.S. workers. A reported shortage of high-tech workers is being supported - and disputed - with contradictory statistics and projections.
Even the terminology is open to interpretation: those who hold H1-B work visas are described in government documents as "temporary" foreign workers. In fact, many already have spent years in the United States on university campuses, where U.S. tax dollars have helped finance their education. Almost half become permanent residents.
As the law now stands, potential employers seeking a "labor certification" for a foreign worker submit a one-page application to the Labor Department.
Employers must attest that the worker will receive the prevailing wage and benefits for the job and that other similarly employed workers won't be adversely affected. They must state that an opening is not the result of a strike or a walkout, and that current employees have been told that a foreign worker is being sought.
The department also wants companies to attest that they have sought U.S. workers before bringing in a foreign worker and that they have not laid off U.S. workers to create the openings.
Employers do not identify job candidates, and most fax in the applications. The Labor Department must act within seven days, unless the document is incomplete or contains obvious inaccuracies.
"So even if you have information or a lead or an allegation that the employer wasn't doing or wasn't going to do what it said, you can't reject an application on that basis," said Mr. Fraser.
After the certification is granted, the Immigration and Naturalization Service is petitioned for the visa. The INS determines whether the worker meets the minimum qualifications - a bachelor's degree or equivalent work experience - and other general requirements for entry.
"In a double bind'
Despite wage and benefit requirements, almost one in five foreign workers was being paid less than the wage their employers had indicated, according to a recent survey by the Labor Department's inspector general.
But department officials say they receive few complaints. They say that might be because employers sponsor the visas and foreign workers fear they will be sent home if they complain.
"They're kind of in a double bind," Mr. Fraser said. "On the one hand, they're dependent on their employer to stay and work in the United States as a non-immigrant, and secondly, they're dependent on the employer to take action on their behalf to sponsor them for permanent status - and those are powerful incentives for them not to complain."
Shree, a 28-year-old engineer from India who asked that his full name not be used, said that for two years he had been reluctant to complain to his employer about benefits and went without a raise.
After he recently mentioned that he was about to receive permanent residency, his employer immediately wanted to discuss a raise.
Since the H1-B program began in the early 1990s, the Labor Department has received about 300 complaints. In 91 cases, investigators concluded that companies owed almost $2.3 million in back wages and assessed about $215,000 in penalties.
"But that's not a lot of money for very profitable industries, especially if one in five aren't paying what they've promised to pay, the chances of getting caught are very small," Mr. Fraser said. "It's hardly a slap on the wrist."
But industry representatives suggest that the relatively low number of complaints indicates that U.S. companies aren't abusing the program.
"You have a marketplace that's probably going to be the best watchdog on this," said Bob Cohen, spokesman for the Information Technology Association, an industry advocacy group. "Our members have no interest in having their competitive edge low-balled or subverted by a company that comes in and undercuts the marketplace."
Some high-tech workers - and groups that represent them - argue that foreign workers help keep salaries low and make older job candidates with higher salary demands virtually unemployable.
"What they [industry] are really saying is they don't have enough cheap scientists," said Gene Nelson, 46, a biophysicist who has been laid off from several high-tech jobs and currently works for a Dallas-area cellular telephone company answering technical questions.
A matter of skills
Dr. Nelson, who has a doctorate in biophysics from the State University of New York at Buffalo, believes that employers don't hire him because his resume does not show the most current programming experience.
"What employers want is a person who has just the skills they are looking for and no more," said Dr. Nelson, who estimates that it would take him about two weeks to learn a new programming language.
Often, companies want candidates who don't need training, and the H1-B visa program was created in order to fill highly specialized positions, Mr. Cohen said.
"You take your . . . candidates with the greatest likelihood of success, and in our particular industry that means a certain combination of education, experience and skill," he said.
Employers say that when recruiting at universities, they often find the best job candidates are foreign students.
"There are plenty of people coming out of American universities with degrees; unfortunately, too few of them are American citizens," said Allen Kay, a spokesman for Mr. Smith. He said the San Antonio congressman plans to introduce legislation in the House to increase the cap on the H1-B visas, although he has not decided by how much.
When Simon J. Fang received his doctorate in material science from Stanford University a few years ago, he had several job offers. The Taiwanese citizen chose a position with Dallas' Texas Instruments.
Dr. Fang, 30, said he did not worry about exchanging a student visa for a work visa and said he plans to seek a green card in about two years.
Many high-tech experts say the argument that companies need workers with highly specialized skills is overstated. They note that many high-tech workers don't have degrees in the field in which they're working. They run the gamut from anthropology majors to college dropouts.
"What many of us are finding is that the people coming over are not significantly more technically skilled than anybody in the United States and they're not typically doing work that is breakthrough or new," said Paul Kostek, president-elect of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers-U.S.A. "They're off doing grunt jobs that any kid with a B.S. degree in computer science from a U.S. school could do."
In fact, Labor Department officials say that "job contractors" or "job shops" appear to be the most frequent users of H1-B workers in the high-tech fields.
The job contractors, which provide temporary workers, are popular among companies who need extra workers for short-term projects or who want to limit their personnel overhead.
Some of these companies, Mr. Fraser said, are staffed almost entirely by foreign workers.
Whether working as interns after completing a college education on a student visa, or as an H1-B worker, foreign workers affect the U.S. workforce, Labor Department officials say.
A job is "effectively occupied from the student intern days through permanent immigration status," said Raymond Uhalde, the labor department's acting assistant secretary for employment and training.
Often companies will sponsor foreign employees with H1-B visas for permanent residency - but under the law they are supposed to first conduct an exhaustive search for a U.S. citizen to fill the job.
The process, however, was described in a 1996 Labor Department inspector general report as "perfunctory at best and a sham at worst."
Critics also say that even if foreign workers are brought in at the prevailing wage for their occupation, over time they depress salaries.
"There is a certain truth in that. . . . An American employee faces that fact that an immigrant worker with the same qualifications is willing to work for less pay," said Shree, the engineer from India.
Critics say they expect the industry will just keep coming back for more and more foreign workers.
"The whole thing boils down to dollars . . ." said Bill Reed, president of the American Engineering Association. "Foreign workers have become the drug of choice for industry and academia. They're addicted and they're not going to stop until they can pick and choose from anyone in the world."
Foreigners far ahead in degrees
They lead U.S. minorities in getting science doctorates
By Ed Timms and Jayne Noble Suhler
The Dallas Morning News
April 5, 1998
A minority student graduating with a doctoral degree in science or engineering is more likely to be from a foreign country than from the United States, a pattern that has persisted for at least a decade.
Some American universities aggressively pursue potential graduate students on overseas recruiting trips. In many graduate programs, foreign students are the majority.
At the University of Texas at Austin, for example, 108 of the 187 graduate students studying computer science are noncitizens with temporary visas.
Nationwide, about 40 percent of the science and engineering doctorates awarded in 1996 went to foreign students, and three out of four were minorities, according to National Science Foundation statistics. Black Americans accounted for less than 2 percent of the degrees, and Hispanics, about 2 percent.
U.S. minorities say that even after decades of affirmative action, they are largely absent from the doctoral programs in the sciences that often lead to positions on the faculties of prestigious universities and lucrative jobs in government or private industry. They worry that the situation will not improve, in light of recent court decisions and policy changes that have essentially eliminated affirmative action in higher education in some states.
Some critics complain that foreign students are being educated, in part, at U.S. taxpayers' expense. A recent National Research Council study reported that "more than 70 percent of non-U.S. citizens cited university support as their primary source of financing."
In their pursuit of a doctorate in the sciences, American minority students compete with foreign students and white Americans for a limited number of slots in graduate schools. Some educators and students also say they must overcome institutional racism or apathy and oftentimes poverty. Also, schools in lower-income minority communities may not be preparing students for college.
"I think what it comes down to, frankly, is . . . an unwillingness to finally do something about our own," said Dr. John F. Alderete, president of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science.
But other educators defend the selection of graduate students as a colorblind process and say that low scores on standardized tests keep many U.S. minority members out of doctoral programs. Foreign students are described by some faculty and business leaders as a well-educated, reliable and cheap labor source that demands little mentoring.
"It's not that U.S. universities deliberately avoid looking at the domestic market," said Dr. Krishnan K. Chittur, an associate professor of chemical engineering at the University of Alabama at Huntsville. "Because it would be a lot easier for us to have students coming in from domestic programs."
He contends that getting applications from U.S. students is a problem and that foreign students are "a fantastic bargain."
Former foreign students are responsible for groundbreaking scientific and technological advances in the United States, said Dr. Chittur, a former foreign student who got his doctorate from Rice University and earned U.S. citizenship.
"The return on the economy, if it were possible to calculate, is such a great bargain that you would say, `Let us increase the funding to foreign students a hundred times,' " he said.
Dr. Chittur also sees the United States' system of higher education as "one of the strongest elements of American foreign policy" because a growing number of the world's business, scientific and political leaders obtain at least part of their education in the United States.
Appointments of noncitizens to faculty positions - where U.S. minorities also are underrepresented - are similarly defended.
"The bottom line, you're going to pick the best person," said William Perry, dean of faculty at Texas A&M University. "Ultimately, you want the best engineers building airplanes, you want your best researchers and teachers in a research university. If that person happens to be foreign-born, so be it."
Dr. Manuel Berriozabal, a professor in the math and statistics department at the University of Texas at San Antonio, works in a department he describes as "heavy with Asians and Indians and a couple of Eastern Europeans." The Texas native said he is one of two Hispanics in his department, and the other is foreign-born.
"Oh, my goodness, we're like the United Nations here," he said.
Dr. Alderete argues that because of the high number of noncitizens, American students sometimes "feel as outsiders in our own American graduate programs and . . . in many of our government agency laboratories."
"It means that we don't have . . . our own support systems and our own networks," said Dr. Alderete, a professor of microbiology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. "You can imagine being the only American woman or minority in these environments."
At Texas Tech University, 67 of the 101 students pursuing doctoral degrees in engineering are described as "nonresident aliens." There are no American Hispanics or blacks.
Directly or indirectly, U.S. tax dollars help pay for the graduate education of foreign students. Graduate programs are subsidized by the host universities. In some science and engineering programs, a majority of students receive some state or federal funding in the form of teaching assistantships and research grants.
"We give them to foreigners rather than giving them to our own citizens or Texans," Dr. Berriozabal said. "It's very sad."
Foreign students help keep graduate programs alive at some universities and are seen as providing the intellectual clout to help improve institutions' academic reputations.
A graduate program may draw from a flood of foreign applicants because it may seem easier than having to "go and tramp around the University of Texas at El Paso trying to find smart Hispanic kids," said Dr. Michael S. Teitelbaum, an analyst with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. And from that pool, universities can draw upon the economic, educational and cultural elite.
"It's not difficult to see the nuances that are involved here," Dr. Alderete said. "Once you end up getting these students with privileged backgrounds, often they are labeled as underrepresented minorities by the institutions where they're at - further eroding the possibility of having American-born, multigenerational minority students in their programs."
Although U.S. minorities are underrepresented in undergraduate science programs, their numbers are growing.
Many such students are interested in pursuing a graduate education but are not getting accepted into programs, Dr. Alderete said.
Also, high-paying jobs in a booming economy lure top minority students away from graduate programs, said Dr. Perry, the A&M dean. In some cases, the students choose to pursue a graduate degree in business or in other lucrative fields, such as law or medicine.
Henry Dickson, a 21-year-old mechanical engineering senior at Penn State University, is the son of a truck driver and the first in his family to attend college. His family helps with some of the costs, and a partial scholarship covers about one-fourth of his tuition. He works every summer but already has amassed several thousand dollars in loans.
"I'm kind of uncertain about graduate school," he said. "I need to make some money and start paying off my loans. If I go to graduate school, that's more debt."
Throughout the nation, universities and government institutions sponsor programs that try to generate more interest in the sciences among minorities. Dr. Berriozabal, for example, runs a summer math enrichment program for high school students.
But backlash against affirmative action is blamed for an enrollment "chill" and reduction in race-based scholarships, which has further constricted the pipeline of U.S. minority students.
"All of that feeds into itself," said Rodolfo de la Garza, vice president of the Tomas Rivera Center, a national research institute that studies Latino issues. "You eliminate the affirmative-action programs, you reduce the outreach programs, so that the natural flow is diminished."
Several studies have shown that average scores on standardized tests - which graduate schools rely heavily upon to select students - tend to be lower for U.S. minority students than for whites and many foreign applicants. Some experts have criticized the tests as being culturally biased and suggest that minority members who have overcome underprivileged backgrounds and obtained a college degree already have demonstrated qualities that test results don't measure.
"From my perspective, any student who's getting B's and above, be they minority or majority students . . . are wonderful material for graduate education," said Dr. David R. Burgess, chairman of the department of biological sciences at the University of Pittsburgh.
Universities remain under pressure to improve their diversity. Technically, only U.S. citizens and permanent residents are supposed to be counted for affirmative-action purposes. But some may resort to creative accounting, Dr. Teitelbaum said.
"Let's say they're under pressure to show that they've got 10 percent Hispanic students, and they've only got 2 percent Mexican-Americans," he said. "But they've got 9 percent Latin Americans. The incentive for them might be, well, let's just put them in."
Nearly half of those in a national minority faculty registry published by Southwestern University in Georgetown are noncitizens. The directory, produced quarterly, includes the names and backgrounds of job seekers for use by faculty search committees at more than 200 universities and is the largest program of its kind in the nation.
The program sometimes receives calls from universities specifically seeking minority members to fill slots created for affirmative-action purposes, said Dr. William Jones, a history professor who heads the program.
The directory is particularly popular with male noncitizens with doctorates, but it is open to anyone who claims to belong to a minority and includes gays and lesbians and Vietnam veterans, Dr. Jones said.
"We don't quibble with people," he said.
On many university campuses, color of any nationality is in short supply.
"My perception is, I really don't care where they come from," said Morris A. Graves, director of the African and Afro-American Studies program at Stanford University. "We have some 1,400-plus tenured, or tenure-track, faculty and staff. Of that number, we have 38 who are African-American. . . . I guess I should say people of African descent because that includes Caribbean-born and South American-born as well. And we're just happy to have them."