We are fortunate in North Carolina to claim some of the best colleges and research universities in the world, and these institutions attract the best and the brightest from around the globe. With an abundance of top talent training right here in the Triangle, our region offers opportunities for businesses to grow and for new companies to relocate here so they can tap into the pipeline of highly skilled, well-educated workers.
This competitive advantage sets North Carolina apart from other states, and it should give us an edge that drives economic growth. Yet for too long, our countrys broken immigration system has kept many of our companies from reaching their potential.
I hear regularly from technology and life sciences companies, where 20 percent of job openings nationwide are going unfilled, about limitations on work visas and green cards for their workers. If only they could hire the right workers then they could grow their businesses in new ways.
However, when top students graduate with masters degrees or Ph.D.s from our universities, our current immigration system too often sends them back to their native countries to compete against us. Thats equivalent to a professional sports team training ballplayers in the minor leagues only to give their top prospects away to its fiercest rivals once they are ready to thrive in the big leagues.
Sen. Kay Hagan sensibly voted last month in favor of immigration reform that would help keep our most talented workers in North Carolina, where they can help grow our economy and create jobs. Specifically, the bipartisan Senate bill addresses critical priorities for the employer-sponsored green card system and temporary work visa programs. It recognizes that the Raleigh and Research Triangle markets require a diverse employment base in order to thrive.
The Senate bill establishes a new merit-based immigration system that prioritizes immigrants who would contribute the most to our economy. Companies in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields unable to fill job openings would more easily find qualified workers for available positions. When companies sponsor foreign workers, they would contribute to a STEM education fund that would be used to train North Carolina students in these critical fields and prepare them for STEM careers, ensuring that we are addressing our long-term needs and training Americans for jobs in growing fields.
The Senate bill would also boost business start-ups. Students who train at our universities help not only existing businesses, but they also start their own companies. Under the legislation, more bright entrepreneurs could stay in the country and build on the legacy of immigrants who have founded some of our countrys largest employers.
North Carolinas economy is slowly recovering from the recession, and commonsense immigration reform would help to provide the economic growth that we badly need. We now fervently hope it receives a favorable bipartisan hearing in the House of Representatives. Its past time to address this issue.
Harvey Schmitt is president and CEO of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce.