If you’re a foreigner seeking a U.S. green card, here’s a little advice: forget about getting an MBA. Study air conditioner repair instead.
If the Senate immigration bill becomes law, immigrants who study dairy science, urban forestry, pulp and paper technology, and air conditioner repair, among other fields, will qualify for special treatment when seeking visas. Those with MBAs will not. That’s because the first four fields I mentioned all fall under the category of STEM education – science, technology, engineering and math.
But MBAs don’t.
That means fewer foreigners will apply to MBA programs, which will reduce the quality of the MBA experience, decrease the selectivity and prestige of top business schools, and have a negative impact on the U.S. economy. I surveyed 40 recent MIT Sloan grads from outside the U.S., and 30% said that getting a visa was one of the primary factors they considered when choosing graduate schools. Only 25% said it wasn’t a factor at all.
To be clear: I support the bill overall – I think it’s incredibly important to raise the number of H-1B visas and to increase immigration from STEM graduates. But I think MBAs should be included as well. I’ll describe what’s in the bill and share a few ideas for how b-schools should respond. The bottom line: b-school deans should make the case to Congress for including MBA grads in the immigration bill. Otherwise, the legislation could seriously threaten the value of the MBA degree.
What’s in the bill?
The bill passed by the Senate last month raises the number of H-1B visas for highly educated workers to at least 110,000, from 85,000. That’s great news in itself. But people who earn advanced degrees in STEM fields will now get an additional benefit: a “direct and immediate route to a green card,” according to USA Today.
It also appears that STEM graduates will be awarded visas without regard to the same limits to which other immigrants are subjected. (This is my interpretation of the passage on p. 304-5 of the bill – I’ve reached out to a couple Senators’ offices to confirm but haven’t heard back yet.)
Does an MBA count as a STEM degree?
For the most part, no. The list of STEM degrees includes management science, business statistics, and “quantitative methods in management science.” But these are hardcore math fields. Management science, for example, refers to degrees that focus on “statistical modeling, data warehousing, data mining, programming, forecasting and operations research techniques.”
Most MBAs won’t qualify. And fields like business administration, marketing, accounting, sales, HR, finance, investing, and entrepreneurship are not included on the STEM list. (You can learn more about how the government classifies different degrees here.)
What should b-schools do?
B-school deans have a few options. They could reshape their programs to include more quantitative content. They could also launch alternative programs – like MIT Sloan’s MS in Management Studies – which may count as STEM degrees.
But I think they need to make the case to Congress for adjusting the visa rules so MBA programs aren’t disadvantaged. Here are a few of the arguments they can make:
Congress should focus on the forest, not the trees. It’s trendy to talk about STEM education these days but let’s focus on the ultimate goal: creating a thriving U.S. economy. We won’t create jobs simply by minting more engineers. We need to turn technical talent into real businesses that sell real products and services. To do that, you need precisely the skills business schools teach: building a strategy, changing a strategy, managing a team, communicating across borders, designing an organization, selling a product, and understanding your customers, to name just a few.
B-schools encourage entrepreneurship. More than 10% of MIT Sloan grads start their own companies (see: Ministry of Supply, Bounce Imaging, Hubspot, and Lallitara.) Schools like Babson and Stanford are also known for producing successful entrepreneurial ventures. By contrast, in MIT’s System Design and Management Program only 1 of 57 grads pursued a startup in 2011.
B-schools foster global leaders. To compete in a global economy, the U.S. needs leaders who can manage across borders and across cultures. MBA programs give students the opportunity to practice this work. During my MBA, I had the opportunity to consult for companies in China and Puerto Rico. My friends worked in Ghana, Brazil, Columbia, Vietnam, and dozens of other countries. These experiences allow MBA students to find practical applications for their coursework in macroeconomics, finance, organizational design, and operations.