University presidents urge congress to reform immigration laws
Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 03:10
International students earning a degree at United States colleges and universities have little opportunity to remain in the U.S. once they complete their education, according to a letter Utah’s higher education officials sent to Congress recently urging immigration reform.
USU’s President Stan Albrecht and presidents of the University of Utah, Weber State University, Southern Utah University, Westminster College, Dixie State University and Snow College sent a letter to Utah’s four members of the House of Representatives in September urging a bipartisan compromise on immigration legislation.
The letter calls out current immigration policies keeping international students, particularly those pursuing master’s and doctorate degrees, from remaining in the United States once they complete their education.
James Odei, a USU graduate student from Ghana, said he is concerned he and his family will not be allowed to stay in the country if he cannot find a job within the one year of graduation allotted by an Optional Practical Training, a temporary work permit.
“They spend American dollars on me for nine years, and when I finish they want me to just take my knowledge home,” Odei said. “My question is: What is the point of spending that money on me? It doesn’t make sense.”
Mark McLellan, dean of the School of Graduate Studies at Utah State said he sees the current system as taking a step backwards.
“It’s more than just counterproductive,” McLellan said. “We produce some of our best students then say, ‘You’re no longer welcome here. You must go home, and why don’t you build a company while you’re there to compete against us?’”
In the letter, the presidents cited a study conducted by the Partnership for a New American Economy and the American Enterprise Institute. The letter states 262 American jobs are created for every 100 foreign-born graduates with a master’s or doctorate in a STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — field that choose to stay and work in the states.
According to McLellan, the university’s particular dedication to graduate research programs and the cultural insight of international students is a formula for success.
“Diverse thinking helps Utah’s companies be more aggressive and exhaustive in exploring directions,” he said. “We don’t always recognize the incredible value that diversity brings to the decision-making and positioning of a company in the marketplace. It’s an extraordinary and valuable opportunity.”