Harnessing the Power of International Students: Unleashing AI Potential through Research and Entrepreneurship

**International Students: Crucial for America’s AI Leadership**


New research has highlighted the vital role that international students play in America’s efforts to lead the world in artificial intelligence (AI). These foreign nationals studying at U.S. universities have become a key source of researchers and entrepreneurial talent in the field of AI. The presence of international students in the AI sector has had a significant impact on the success of many U.S.-based AI companies.

**International Students As Entrepreneurs**

According to a new analysis conducted by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP), 42% of the top U.S.-based AI companies had a founder who came to America as an international student. In fact, 77% of these leading AI companies were either founded or co-founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants.

The NFAP analysis was based on interviews and information gathered from the 43 U.S. companies listed in Forbes’ AI 50, which identifies the top startup companies working on AI applications. Furthermore, a separate study by NFAP found that immigrant entrepreneurs had started over half of the billion-dollar companies in the United States, several of which are focused on AI.

**Examples of Success**

The success stories of international students turned entrepreneurs in the AI industry are numerous. For instance, in 2016, two former international students from France, Sébastien Boyer and Thomas Palomares, founded FarmWise, an AI-based company that specializes in precision weeding on farms. Boyer earned two master’s degrees from MIT, while Palomares received an M.S. from Stanford.

Another example is Aditya Khosla, an international student from India. After completing his studies at Caltech, Khosla obtained a master’s degree from Stanford and a Ph.D. from MIT in computer science. In 2016, he co-founded PathAI, a company that utilizes AI for optimizing the analysis of patient tissue samples and other clinical and diagnostic purposes. PathAI currently boasts a workforce of 250 employees.

Similarly, the founders of Runway, a company that provides AI tools for images and videos, were immigrants who had come to America as international students. Anastasis Germanidis, the company’s CTO, is originally from Greece and attended Wesleyan University and NYU. Alejandro Matamala-Ortiz and CEO Cristóbal Valenzuela, both immigrants from Chile, also attended NYU. Runway recently reached a valuation of $1.5 billion after securing funding.

Moveworks, an AI company that focuses on providing information technology support to companies, also has three of its four founders who were international students at U.S. universities. Varun Singh, the Vice President of Product, hails from India and obtained a master’s degree from UCLA and a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland. Jiang Chen, the Vice President of Machine Learning, comes from China and holds a Ph.D. in computer science from Yale. Vaibhav Nivargi, Moveworks’ CTO, immigrated to the U.S. from India and received a master’s degree in computer science from Stanford.

**International Students As A Key Source of AI Talent**

The NFAP analysis reveals that 70% of full-time graduate students in selected AI-related fields in U.S. universities are international students. However, the difficulty in obtaining H-1B status and permanent residence in the United States often pushes these international students to pursue careers in other countries. Retaining these talented individuals in the U.S. after graduation is considered essential for ensuring American leadership in the field of AI.

In the specific field of computer and information sciences, which is prominent for AI research, 71% of full-time graduate students at U.S. universities are international students. Moreover, international students constitute 73% of full-time graduate students in electrical and computer engineering, 69% in applied mathematics, and 65% in statistics.

According to the Final Report of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, released in 2021, failing to cultivate more talent domestically and attract and retain existing talent from abroad puts the United States at risk of losing the global competition for AI expertise.


The presence of international students in American universities is crucial for America’s efforts to maintain its leadership in artificial intelligence. These students not only contribute significantly to the success of U.S.-based AI companies but also bring diverse perspectives and expertise to the field. However, retaining international students in the U.S. after graduation is essential to ensure continued innovation and competitiveness in AI. The United States must actively cultivate talent domestically and create an environment that encourages international students to build their careers in the country. By doing so, the United States can secure its position as the global leader in artificial intelligence.

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