More than 100 university presidents have signed a letter urging the Obama administration and Congress to compromise on a solution that would grant top foreign-born students a pathway to remain in the U.S. after graduation, a proposal that they say has bipartisan support among voters.
The letter was sent in conjunction with a new report finding that foreign-born inventors were involved with 76 percent of patents awarded to the top 10 American research universities.
The efforts were announced Tuesday by the Partnership for a New American Economy, an immigration-reform group cochaired by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and whose membership includes hundreds of mayors and business leaders. The partnership supports immigration reform as a means to create American jobs and boost economic growth.
The report analyzed data from the top 10 patent-producing research universities for 2011, including Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It found that more than half of the 1,466 patents awarded to these universities came from foreign-born students, postdoctoral fellows, and research staff, the cohort most likely to face difficulties obtaining legal status after graduation.
The letter, addressed to President Obama and House and Senate congressional leaders, urges Washington to find a bipartisan solution that would ensure "our top international graduates have a clear path to a green card, so they can stay and create new American jobs."
The report also outlined possible solutions: Green cards issued to graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields; more support for visas granted to foreign-born entrepreneurs who secure funding from American investors; and/or removing or increasing the cap for H-1B work visas.
Allowing foreign-born graduates to stay, the group argues, is a means to bolster the U.S. economy, which can benefit from the new companies and jobs that patents would eventually create.
Both the letter and the report tout bipartisan support for issuing green cards to highly skilled foreign-born graduates, based on a survey of Republican primary voters and 800 likely voters.
The survey found that, nationally, 76 percent of voters supported the green-card proposal. The majority along party lines were also in support: Democrats at 87 percent, independents at 65 percent, and Republicans at 72 percent.
The report comes at a time when the American workforce is faced with a shortfall of highly skilled workers. Economists have projected that by 2018, the U.S. will be missing a quarter of a million highly skilled STEM workers, said John Feinblatt, chief policy adviser to Bloomberg, in a Tuesday conference call announcing the findings.
For each foreign-born STEM worker with an advanced degree earned in the U.S., an average of 2.6 additional American jobs were created, he said.
"We are not educating STEM students at the rate that this economy needs," Feinblatt said, adding that the "antiquated" immigration system doesn't accommodate the highly skilled foreign-born students who have been educated using American resources.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the number of university presidents who signed the letter to Congress. The updated version now reflects the correct current number of signatures on the letter.
This story is part of our Next America: Workforce project, which is supported by a grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.