Editors note: This post was written by WLRN reporter Luc Cohen.
The presidents of more than 100 U.S. research universities signed a letter to President Obama and Congressional leaders urging them to make it easier for international students to get jobs in the country after they graduate.
The letter argues that highly skilled workers in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — are in high demand in the U.S. work force and necessary for global economic competitiveness.
The university presidents call on Congress to provide students who graduate from American universities with advanced STEM degrees with a “clear path to a green card.”
“After we have trained and educated these future job creators, our antiquated immigration laws turn them away to work for our competitors in other countries,” the letter reads.
The presidents of the University of Miami, Florida State University, the University of Florida and the University of Central Florida all signed the letter.
University of Miami president Donna Shalala said that although UM’s engineering graduate school is not as large as those of the other signatories, she believes keeping these graduates in the U.S. will benefit the economy.
And it can benefit UM too, she said.
She says she would like to be able to recruit foreign nationals with doctorates to teach at UM.
“We believe that we’re letting go some highly skilled workers, trained at American universities, and the competing economies around the world are going to grab them,” Shalala said.
No other Florida schools signed the letter, nor did State University System of Florida Chancellor Frank Brogan.
“I don’t know that [Brogan] was invited to [sign it] or provided a copy of the letter,” Florida Board of Governors spokesman Kelly Layman said in an email.
Leaders of university systems in states like California, Missouri, New York and Oregon all signed the letter.
Madeline Baro is assistant director of media relations at Florida International University.
She says FIU president Mark Rosenberg supports the campaign and he “is committed to signing it.”
The campaign is a project of an organization called the Partnership for a New American Economy, which was started by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and communications giant Rupert Murdoch to advocate for immigration reform.
According to Bloomberg’s chief policy analyst John Feinblatt, the letter began with ten participating institutions. The leaders of these schools then invited their colleagues at other universities to sign.
Feinblatt said the list of signatories is by no means exclusive, but the group did not actively try to recruit presidents to sign either.
Foreign engineers and scientists who start businesses and receive patents in the U.S. after graduating from an American institution help create jobs and boost the economy, he said.
“This country just has to start looking at immigration as an economic issue,” Feinblatt said. “Immigration policy should be central to economic policy.
Should the U.S. ease work visa requirements on international students who graduate from an American university? Do you know someone who has tried to obtain a visa?