Mistakenly, many assume that foreign nationals, including international students, are never allowed to vote for important decisions including elections and referendums. That may be true in the United States, but it is not the case in all nations. For example, the United Kingdom allows international students from the 54 foreign countries of the Commonwealth, and Ireland, to vote as long as they are residing in the United Kingdom at the time of the vote (The Electoral Commission, 2016). This is particularly interesting as the United Kingdom is the United States’ main competitor in international education (The Guardian, 2014). Below are a few arguments for allowing international students in the U.S. to vote.
Allowing Certain International Students to Vote Would Make the United States a More Attractive Destination (Recruitment)
International students from over 50 countries may be more enticed to study in the United Kingdom if they know that they will have a say in local politics. This is particularly relevant as the United States recently emerged from one of the most controversial elections in its history, especially when it comes to foreign policies and the rights and conditions of immigrants.
President-elect Trump wants to considerably transform immigration policies. This could penalize high achieving international students who want to contribute to the American society (Trump, 2016). Knowing that they cannot vote, the top international students from Commonwealth countries could elect to study in the United Kingdom instead.
The United States greatly benefits from having international students. To start with, they inject over $30 billion in the American economy (Barta et al.). Moreover, data shows that American employees lack cross-cultural competencies which costs the country $2 billion, annually (NAFSA). Not everyone can afford to study or travel abroad. International students expose American students to other cultures. Learning in cross-cultural groups also improves the overall experience of all students and tends to yield better outcomes (Economides, 2008). In other words, the United States depends on international students on many levels. Providing the same favorable conditions as the United Kingdom would make it easier to attract top candidates. This is especially true given the recent election.
Allowing Certain International Students to Vote Would Make them More Engaged (Retention)
The US implemented a new strategy to increase the number of international students in STEM fields that remain in the country beyond graduation. In fact, they can get three years of optional practical training when they graduate instead of only one like other fields (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2016). This leaves them more time to integrate to the American society and to gain valuable work experience. Hopefully, they receive an employer sponsorship and remain if they are a good fit.
The US can do more during the course of their studies to help them adjust to life in America beyond campus. For example, allowing their voices to be heard, fostering increased civic engagement and getting them more interested in local politics. It can be argued that recent graduates working on a F1 student VISA thinking about their future will be more likely to stay in the United States if they are allowed to vote before getting their citizenship, which could take several years.
Students would also gain more exposure to American democracy and way of life if given the opportunity to actually be part of it by sharing rights and responsibilities of American peers. Ultimately, the United States needs to attract, but also retain top talent. Providing better conditions and fostering civic engagement by strategically allowing some international students to vote, like in the United Kingdom, would positively transform the early integration process of new Americans that initially come as international students.
Allowing Certain International Students to Vote Would Make the United States More Democratic
The United Kingdom allows students from countries as diverse as Australia and Bangladesh to vote. That allows these countries to hear different perspectives. International students come from a variety of backgrounds and have heterogeneous experiences. These perspectives could be useful to the American society if it made an effort to hear them. That’s closer to what Tocqueville (1835) observed when he first visited the US from France to write “Democracy in America”. He was shocked to see how everyone was born equal in America, unlike in Europe where aristocracies were still dominant. The United Kingdom sees that international students are important and desirable in their economy. It also knows there will always be international students in the country. Allowing at least some to vote lets their voices to be heard and considered in major decisions.
There are close to one million international students in the United States. They represent more individuals than seven states on their own. These international students have at least one thing in common. They are intelligent individuals who’ve risen to incredible challenges to receive an education in the US, the country they chose. Yet, the government completely ignores their voice. In that respect, the United Kingdom does a better job equally listening to diverse voices.