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Daniels, Presidents Ask STEM Grad Immigration Fix

June 29, 2012
CONTACT: Dennis O’Shea

Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels and more than 75 other research university leaders are asking the federal government to provide top international graduates a clear path to green cards so they can make discoveries, invent technologies and create jobs in the United States.  

The university leaders wrote to President Obama and congressional leaders this week, citing a study released by the Partnership for a New American Economy on the role of immigrant inventors in American innovation. The study found that 76 percent of university-issued patents list at least one foreign-born inventor. 

The partnership (www.renewoureconomy.org) is a bipartisan coalition of mayors and business leaders supporting immigration reforms that will help create jobs for Americans. 

In recent years, Johns Hopkins has enrolled more than 10 percent of its students from abroad, including countries in Asia, Europe, South America, Africa and the Pacific. Many come to the university to study science, technology, engineering or mathematics, the so-called “STEM” disciplines that are the basis of innovation in medicine, the life sciences, consumer products, information technology and many other sectors of the economy.

“To abandon the investment that we have put into our students and to let other countries benefit from that investment is shortsighted,” Daniels said, “especially when global competitiveness is so dependent on having a highly skilled workforce.”

Foreign-born faculty, postdoctoral fellows, researchers and students play a significant role in university-based research, which accounts for more than half of all U.S. basic research. Daniels and the other presidents called for a bipartisan solution to keep their universities’ best STEM graduates in this country to continue innovating and creating American jobs.  

“It is imperative that we, a nation built by immigrants, come together and find a way to welcome these bright men and women to stay here, work with us and help build our economy,” Daniels said. “I am consistently amazed at the incredible innovations they are capable of achieving.”

The university presidents’ letter, addressed to President Obama and the Republican and Democratic leaders in both houses of Congress, stated: “As leaders of universities educating the creators of tomorrow’s scientific breakthroughs, we call on you to address a critical threat to America’s preeminence as a global center of innovation and prosperity: our inability under current United States immigration policy to retain and benefit from many of the top minds educated at our universities. … We ask you to work together to develop 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. Now is the time to do so and ensure that the U.S. remains the world’s leading home for innovators. ”  The full letter can be found here

The university presidents represent 32 different states and Washington, D.C., and a combined student population of more than 2.3 million.

The report by the Partnership for a New American Economy, “Patent Pending: How Immigrants Are Reinventing The American Economy,” looked at all of the patents from the top 10 patent-producing universities in 2011: the University of California system, Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Texas system, the California Institute of Technology, the University of Illinois system, the University of Michigan, Cornell University and the Georgia institute of Technology.  The study of patents from these leading research universities found the following: 

  • More than three out of every four patents (76 percent) had a foreign-born inventor.
  • More than half of all patents (54 percent) were awarded to the group of foreign inventors most likely to face visa hurdles: students, postdoctoral fellows and staff researchers.  
  • Foreign-born inventors played significant roles in the fields of semiconductor device manufacturing (87 percent), information technology (84 percent), pulse or digital communications (83 percent), pharmaceutical drugs or drug compounds (79 percent) and optics (77 percent).
  • The nearly 1,500 patents awarded to these universities represented inventors from more than 88 countries.

The Partnership for a New American Economy report recommended fixes for the U.S. immigration system to keep innovators here and create more jobs for American workers.  The recommendations include:

  • Green cards for STEM graduates: Since 99 percent of the patents in this report were from the STEM fields, the United States should grant permanent residency, or green cards, to foreign students who earn graduate degrees in STEM fields. 
  • A Startup Visa: Create a visa for foreign-born entrepreneurs who have American investors and want to start companies that employ American workers.  This would allow more of the inventions coming out of our universities to turn into companies and jobs in the United States.
  • Raise or Remove H-1B Caps: As the H-1B temporary high-skilled visa is often the only option for foreign-born STEM graduates to stay in this country,  the Partnership for a New American Economy recommends raising or removing the arbitrary annual cap on visas, currently set at 65,000, that is typically exhausted far before the end of the year.  In 2012, the visas were allocated in 10 weeks, meaning that for more than nine months from March through December, American companies will not be able to hire the highly-skilled foreign-born workers they need. 


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