DURHAM — Local and national university presidents sent a letter to President Barack Obama and congressional leaders Tuesday, calling for an easier path to permanent resident status for foreign students.
The letter, signed by more than 100 university leaders from across the country, comes in conjunction with a report released by the bipartisan group Partnership for a New American Economy, which details the importance of immigrant ingenuity to the economy.
Among its findings, the report, titled Patent Pending: How Immigrants are Reinventing the American Economy, found that out of the 1,500 patents awarded to the top 10 patent-producing universities in the United States, more than three-quarters had at least one foreign inventor. Additionally, these inventors represented 88 countries.
The letter was addressed to Obama, as well as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Speaker of the House John Boehner, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.
In it, university leaders bemoaned our inability under current United States immigration policy to retain and benefit from many of the top minds educated at our universities and called for a bipartisan solution that ensures our top international graduates have a clear path to a green card, so they can stay and create new American jobs.
Several local university leaders signed the letter, including Duke Universitys Richard Brodhead, UNC-Chapel Hills Holden Thorp, N.C. States Randolph Woodson, UNC Charlottes Philip Dubois and Wake Forests Nathan Hatch, none of whom could be reached for comment.
According to Deborah Weissman, a Reef C. Ivey II distinguished professor of law at UNC-CH, part of the problem is that it is difficult for foreign students, who are generally in the country on visas, to remain here after they graduate.
They are investing in us, and we are investing in them, Weissman said, and the outcome can be enriching for the economy and the cultural fabric, but not if there is no way for them to stay.
Weissman added that from an economic standpoint, she understands the need to keep foreign students in the country.
When they enter in our economy and intermingle with the U.S. workforce, the end result is greater efficiency and effectiveness, Weissman said.
William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration, disagreed with the university leaders letter.
I would remind them that they serve the American citizens who pay the taxes that have funded these institutions for years, Gheen said. They should think that it could be an American in that university.
The letter comes on the heels of Obamas decision Friday to spare some immigrants who came to the United States as children from being deported. And on Monday the Supreme Court handed down a split decision regarding Arizonas hotly contested immigration law.