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Posted at 04:23 PM ET, 06/26/2012

America’s other immigration problem: Report outlines contributions from highly-skilled immigrants


Chia-Pin Chang, left, fears being forced to leave the United States once his student visa expires despite his research. He is seen here with Research Prof. David J. Nagel. (Jeffrey MacMillan)

More than three-quarters of the patents generated by the top 10 U.S. patent-generating universities had a foreign-born inventor in 2011.

That’s according to a report released Tuesday by the Partnership for a New American Economy and titled “Patent Pending: How Immigrants Are Reinventing The American Economy.” The coalition’s report comes a day after the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a number of key parts of Arizona’s controversial immigration law, which focused on low-wage, illegal immigration — the type often discussed when talk turns to immigration reform.

The partnership is a bipartisan coalition that advocates on behalf of “sensible immigration reform” (read: highly-skilled immigrants). Among the organization’s supporters are New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Microsoft’s Steven Ballmer and News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch.

According to the report, 99 percent of the patents generated at the top 10 patent-producing universities were in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. The study was released along with a letter signed by 90 university presidents and addressed to President Obama and the congressional leadership. The letter calls on lawmakers “to work together to develop a bipartisan solution that ensures our top international graduates have a clear path to a green card.”

“We need those workers badly,” said John Feinblatt, chief adviser to Bloomberg for policy and strategic planning and its criminal justice coordinator. Feinblatt was on a conference call held by the partnership on Tuesday afternoon.

“This is a valuable resource that we are investing in by educating them, but our antiquated education immigration system is leaving them with no choice” but to go elsewhere, he continued.

The talent is not only going home; they are migrating, in some cases, to countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Ireland and Australia. According to the report, these countries “have already taken bold steps to ease the visa process for foreign students, innovators and entrepreneurs.”

Rather than a question of immigration policy, said California Institute of Technology President Jean-Lou Chameau, “it is a matter of talent policy.”

“There is a global talent rush and we are losing that global talent rush,” Feinblatt said. He went on to outline three solutions:

●Guarantee a green card to master’s and PhD students who graduate with STEM degrees.

●Create a start-up visa or entrepreneur visa for those who secure U.S. venture capital funding. “That American capital will follow that foreign talent to other countries,” Feinblatt said.

●Raise the cap on H1-B visas.

The solutions, while simple on their face, have no clear pathway toward implementation, with Congress and the president smack in the middle of an election year and immigration far from top-of-mind for voters.

This post has been updated.

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By  |  04:23 PM ET, 06/26/2012

Categories:  Business, Entrepreneurship, Research

 
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