4608963722_7c88e503f8_zThe U.S. has long been a destination for students around the world. They come to attend the nation’s colleges and universities, and many wish to stay to pursue job opportunities and make their lives here, but our immigration system throws up barriers at every step of the way. Foreign students add billions of dollars to the U.S. economy each year, and those who remain are more  likely to start businesses and contribute to innovation than their American counterparts. Right now, as the economy struggles back to life, it’s hard to imagine letting such opportunities go to waste. Growing frustration with this dilemma is leading more and more college presidents, professors, and higher education administrators across the country to declare their support for improving the nation’s immigration policies. 

Most recently, college and university leaders sent letters to their congressional representatives to call for action on immigration reform legislation so that the country can remain competitive globally. The presidents, chancellors, and deans from colleges in 10 states—Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Utah, Tennessee, and Utah—signed onto the letters released by the Partnership for a New American Economy. “We ask you to work together to develop a comprehensive, bipartisan solution because all parts of our economy – from education to agriculture to housing to business – need it,” they wrote.

Even with the significant barriers placed in their way, immigrants are significantly influencing the economic activity of every state. For every 100 foreign-born graduates of a U.S. master’s or doctoral program who stay in American working in a STEM field, their employment creates 262 jobs for American workers. That means a significant employment boost in Arkansas, for example, where the number of foreign-born workers in STEM fields with advanced degrees grew by 303 percent between 2000 and 2010. And in Utah, immigrant-owned businesses in Utah generate about $388 million in income for the state each year.

These letters are only a small sample of the support for immigration reform from many in higher education who interact with foreign-born students every day. University presidents in Kentucky wrote an editorial in the Courier-Journal in February calling on Congress and President Obama to work together to fix the nation’s broken immigration system. They said that it “makes no sense for us to spend our time developing great minds that want to be here and contribute meaningfully to our culture and economy only to send them away.” Along with the Association of American Universities, Yale President Peter Salovey said in August that he hopes the House will reach a bipartisan agreement on immigration reform legislation.

And in May, more than 600 college and university professors signed a letter in support of comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship, to match 21st century demands. That letter, which the academic community continues to circulate, points out that immigrants are also members of our communities, so it is especially troubling that millions of undocumented children who would have benefited from the DREAM Act are enrolled in U.S. schools but cannot gain lawful employment at the end of their education because of their immigration status. And increasingly, they are living in mixed-status families, so as the letter explains, “Our immigrant students are likely to have family members who are undocumented or have been deported, and deportations of family and community members have lasting consequences for them.”

Higher education officials see the toll of our dysfunctional system daily, whether it comes from watching foreign-born graduates depart the U.S. despite opportunities for them here or educating  undocumented students who run the risk of being deported from the only country they have ever known. That’s why they are adding their voices to the calls for immigration reform and why they are urging the House of Representatives to follow the Senate’s lead and vote to overhaul our immigration system. They know all too well that, the costs of doing nothing on immigration reform continue to mount.

Photo Courtesy of John Walker.

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