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Friday, September 21, 2012

Competition between American universities and colleges is fierce. Whether it is trying to draw the top faculty and students or best each other in sports, intercollegiate rivalry is perhaps at its highest pitch ever. However, there is one area where the nation’s institutions of higher education can come together in constructive agreement: immigration reform.

Recently, the presidents and chancellors of 165 of America’s top universities sent a letter to President Obama and all members of Congress urging them to forge a consensus on visa reform that would open a pathway to green cards for international students earning advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (the so called STEM fields) (http://www.renewoureconomy.org/sites/all/themes/pnae/university-letter.pdf). While highlighting the senselessness of training the world’s best and brightest only to watch them return to their home countries or go to other nations competing with us, the letter also lists several bittersweet statistics:
  • U.S. institutions remain a top magnet for the world’s best and brightest students and graduate 16 percent of all Ph.D.s worldwide in scientific and technical fields.
  • In 2009, students on temporary visas were 45 percent of all graduate students in engineering, math, computer science and physical sciences – earning 43 percent of all master’s degrees and 52 percent of all Ph.D.s.
  • In 2011, foreign-born inventors were credited contributors on more than 75 percent of patents issued to the top 10 patent-producing universities in the United States.
Without question, immigrants play an important role in American innovation. Such innovation leads to new companies and jobs for American workers and are a key foundation of our economic security. As the Partnership for a New American Economy has pointed out in a report (http://www.renewoureconomy.org/index.php?q=not-coming), the U.S. will be facing a shortage of no less than 230,000 advanced degree STEM jobs by 2018. Unfortunately, there are no meaningful avenues to permanent status in the U.S. for these STEM graduates.

What makes the absence of a solution to this visa issue even more frustrating is the conspicuous presence of broad bipartisan support for STEM-based immigration reform. Earlier this year, one poll of likely voters found that 76% of voters support such reform. In fact, 87% of Democrats, 72% of Republicans, 68% of Tea Party supporters, and 65% of Independents are in favor of this reform. Interestingly, the highest support for such change came from voters under the age of 35.

The winds of STEM immigration reform are blowing favorably in this direction. To bring it to fruition, all we need now are leaders on both sides of the political debate to give it the old college try.



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