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A Take on How U.S. Politics Are Affecting MBAs

September 27, 2018 :: Jacob Allison

US Politics and the MBA

So…American politics have been a little kooky as of late. Okay, let’s be honest, sometimes it seems like things have gone completely off the rails.

A lot of this craziness has centered around the issue of immigration. With rallies, controversial policies, court battles, protests, and the buzz of the 24-hour news cycle, it’s no wonder international professionals considering an MBA are thinking twice about getting their degree from an American university. According to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), 75% of U.S. universities experienced a decrease in international applications for their full-time, two year MBA programs from 2016 to 2017.

So, what are the facts about studying as an international student in the U.S. in 2018? Here’s what we know:

Location Matters

The national debate over legal and illegal immigration in American politics is complicated, in part because America is politically divided along geographic lines. While you may have heard about the controversial ways in which the Trump administration has been cracking down on illegal immigration on America’s southern border, many metropolitan cities have refused to cooperate with these policies and with federal immigration authorities, becoming what are known as “sanctuary cities.”

What does this have to do with MBA applicants, you ask? Well, most of the top U.S. MBA programs are located in these immigrant-friendly “sanctuary cities,” including New York City (Columbia Business School, Stern), Boston (Harvard Business School, MIT Sloan), Chicago (Booth, Kellogg), Berkeley (Hass), and Philadelphia (Wharton). Any international student studying at these programs isn’t going to have to worry about facing a hostile cultural environment. Like most places in the world, the majority of people you meet at a U.S. university will be sweet as American apple pie. You will, however, be exposed to American pop culture no matter where you choose to study 🙂

Visa Changes in the “America First” Era

In August 2017, the Trump administration updated the consideration criteria that consular officials use when assessing F-1 Student Visa applications. These changes include asking for more details in Visa interviews about an international student’s plans for returning to their home country after graduating from a U.S. university. These stricter interview questions have, in part, led to the U.S. State Department issuing 40% fewer international student visas from 2015 to 2017. For those looking to earn an MBA in the U.S., this means that your post-graduation career goals and plans need to be clearly defined in preparation for your Visa interview. Good thing you’ve already been working on those MBA career goals essays, right?

For MBA graduates who want to stay and work at an American company after graduation, things have also recently become more complicated. F-1 Visa graduates are allowed to apply for  Optional Practical Training (OPT), which allows STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) graduates to work for up to three years in the U.S. after graduation and non-STEM graduates for one year. Unfortunately, MBA graduates don’t fall in the STEM category, so if you want to work in the U.S. for more than a year after graduation, your employer will have to apply for an increasingly hard to acquire H1B Visa for you.

While the official requirements for obtaining an H1B Visa haven’t changed, U.S. companies that want to hire international talent have been complaining that bureaucratic scrutiny and red tape of the H1B process has increased significantly in the past two years, driving up administrative costs and discouraging them from looking at international candidates. This makes it all the more important to maximize your networking and internship opportunities during your MBA experience. After all, it wouldn’t be an American experience if it didn’t involve a little shameless self-promotion.

What the Future Looks Like

From controversial travel bans and anti-free trade policies, the Trump administration has taken American immigration and economic policy in directions that neither major American political party has endorsed in the recent past. An important aspect of the American political system is that politicians are ultimately accountable to the people who vote for them and the people who donate to their campaigns. Big political donor reactions to the Trump administration’s policies on immigrants and free trade have been overwhelmingly negative, with major American business executives from both sides of the political spectrum asking for fewer restrictions on hiring foreign talent. This means that it’s unlikely that future administrations will continue to make it difficult for talented international applicants to study and work in the U.S.

So, is an MBA from a U.S. University Still Worth It?

In a word: Yes. While it has recently become more difficult to secure a Visa to study at a U.S. university, these difficulties are probably temporary. Those who do put in the work to secure a spot at an elite U.S. MBA program and are able to navigate the increasingly complicated visa process will be learning from the best business faculty in the world, have access to networks in the top companies in every industry, and will hold average post-graduation salaries in the $150K range. With international applications declining at top U.S. MBA programs in part because of these political uncertainties, odds of acceptance for international students may even be increasing (we’ll have a post on THAT soon!).


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