Last week, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, U.S. Representative Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) proposed a new type of sanction: kicking Russian students out of American universities. “I think closing their embassy in the United States, kicking every Russian student out of the United States—those should all be on the table,” he told a group of panelists on CNN. The United States is host to approximately 5,000 Russian students, including at FRCC Westminster. The comment has been widely criticized by many people across the political spectrum as heartless, or ineffective. But what’s so bad about the idea, and what could we do instead?
So, what exactly is wrong with Swalwell’s proposal? It is true that American universities and educational institutions are a great asset to the country. Many of the greatest schools in the world are in the United States, and people come from all over the world to study here. So why not use that leverage against Russia? First, it’s probably just immoral on its face. The Russian students studying here had nothing to do with the invasion, and they have no leverage over Putin and his cronies. This is an issue with all sanctions- the economic devastation they cause is targeted disproportionately at average people, while oligarchs and dictators remain mostly unaffected. The hope is that, at some point, pressure from average people gets so high that the people at the top are forced to change course. There is disagreement on how effective economic sanctions are, but what’s certain is that this would not work. As mentioned earlier, there are only about 5,000 Russian students in the United States, nowhere near enough to apply any meaningful pressure to the Kremlin. So not only would they be devastating to those people studying in our country, it would be very unlikely to work.
There is also the issue of finances. International students pay far more than U.S. citizens for their education, effectively subsidizing our Universities. Here at FRCC, international students can expect to pay well over 2.5x more than resident students, and that’s before COF and other state subsidies that international students don’t qualify for. That means that by kicking out international students, we’d effectively be shortchanging U.S. universities millions of dollars, and American citizens would have to pick up the bill one way or another. Given that the policy is unlikely to even work, and would cost Americans millions, why would we ever do it?
Given the response that Swalwell got from his idea, we probably will not be doing it, but what can we do instead? I’ll answer that question with another question: If someone comes to the United States to get their education here, is there really any reason they shouldn’t be allowed to stay? After all, every Russian who goes to work back home is going to be working on SU-57s, Tu-243s, and other Russian military hardware. Why? When they could be working on F-35s, or a new generation of American MANPADS? Highly capable & intelligent people are an asset- not a burden, and instead of kicking Russian students out of the country, we should be inviting them to stay.
Why stop there, though? Why limit ourselves to only welcoming Russian students from American universities? Any Russian who got a degree in any university should be allowed to come to the United States. Frankly, that’s even better. They get educated at the expense of the Russian government, leave, and then contribute to our technological advancement. Why even stop with just Russians? China is beginning to catch up to the United States in technological achievement, but technology doesn’t come from nowhere. It comes from smart, educated people researching, and making breakthroughs in laboratories. So, why not offer the smart, educated people in Chinese laboratories a ticket to the new world?
The United States is, for the most part, a nation of immigrants. One of the only countries in the world whose nationality is not defined by race, religion, or even language- but instead a common set of values and beliefs. An immigrant who moves to Norway will be hard-pressed to ever be able to call themselves Norwegian- but an immigrant who moves to the United States? I’m not sure about you, but I’d almost be offended if they don’t call themselves an American. That’s one thing that sets us apart from the rest of the world – anyone can be an American, and there are plenty of people in line. We just need to let them in.