I came across a social media post from a former international student athlete I worked with during my career as a broadcaster at Cal State Bakersfield. Aly Ahmed, a key member of the 2016 NCAA Tournament team, posted a few photos of his lovely family back home in his native Egypt where he is playing professional basketball.
I’ve written about Aly before; he gave me one of the most memorable moments during my time at CSUB. After our loss in the first round of the NCAA Tourney, his last collegiate game, he put his arm around me and in his thick accent said “thank you for everything, my friend.” He’s a player I’ll never forget.
His circumstances are a tad different because he ended up back in his native country after a short stint in the NBA G-League stateside. His connections to the Egyptian National Team landed him a professional basketball gig back home. But, as this country continues to bark about immigration, attracting the right into the U.S., it always left me confused that we provided graduating students with such a short time to start a career before they are asked to leave. Most have 12 months to reapply for a work-visa from a student-visa, but, for many, this is an impossible task as the process can often take longer. One can’t apply for a change in status while still enrolled as a student. Essentially, the timing has to be perfect.
Then there’s the work-visa necessity in order to be hired, a chicken and the egg scenario indeed since you can’t have a full-time job while on a student-visa. Even Aly lost an entire year of professional basketball because he couldn’t get his work-visa in time.
Don’t get me wrong; the student visa program has had its faults, but I once shared a plane with a tearful volleyball athlete we had as she started her long journey back to Brazil. You see she had graduated and without a job right away or a guaranteed graduate scholarship, she was forced to return to her native country. This happens multiple times a year among the estimated 20,000 international student athletes in the NCAA alone. If we fight about allowing certain people in our country, why do we send the most well-educated back to their place of origin when they desire to live here, work here and have already assimilated and learned the language?
I’m not an international policy expert, but my empirical data says these are the kids we should be keeping. I’m not talking about huddled masses, I’m talking about hand-selected student-athletes who showed they can do the work, put in the time, become a contributing member of the American way of life and are eager to begin the path to citizenship. Why is it the desire of the American university system to culture a diverse learning experience with international influence but that melting pot ends at campus boundaries and is lost in bureaucracy?
There’s the additional debate about student-athlete compensation. Even California has passed a law, risking running afoul of the NCAA, that would allow student-athletes to earn endorsement deals while they are in school. Could we not potentially offer a better path to citizenship or additional time for full-time employment once an international student-athlete graduates? This would, in fact, be a perk to an athlete and not all international students, but, it would certainly help level the playing field for some smaller schools that rely on international athletes because to remain competitive as much of the domestic talent has been snapped up by larger institutions.
It’s something to think about as we continue to address both immigration and amateurism issues at the political and collegiate levels. I’ve seen enough great student athletes who could have been major contributors to this nation go elsewhere to succeed professionally and thought we certainly can find a better way to reap the benefits from the investment placed into their student lives and turn them into professionals here, in their adopted home.
An American story if I’ve ever heard one.
Corey Costelloe has covered NCAA, professional and local sports for more than 20 years as a reporter and broadcaster. A THS graduate, he now resides in Tehachapi. He can be reached at email@example.com. The opinions expressed are his own.