The Washington Post

Skilled immigration reform and STEM education advocates get spotlight in inaugural address

View Photo Gallery: Washington woke early Monday to begin its quadrennial ritual of watching, waiting and bearing witness to the presidential swearing-in.

Advocates for greater investment in math and science education and for changes to the nation’s visa laws for skilled immigrants got a surge of nitrogen to their engines.

In his inaugural address Monday, President Obama placed both issues front and center, emphasizing their priority with their placement in one of the most high-profile speeches of his presidency.

“No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future. Or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores,” said the president before a crowd estimated to be anywhere between 800,000 and a million people, with millions more watching across the country and around the world.

Then there was his reference to immigration reform, particularly that of skilled immigrants — those who acquire degrees in science and technology but are unable to stay in the United States.

“Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity,” said Obama, “until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.”

Obama’s remarks in his second and final inaugural address, were, as others have mentioned, a clearly broadcast signal of his position on a range of issues, including climate change, renewable energy, and entitlement programs. But for advocates who have long called for greater emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math education and a growing community that wants change to the nation’s immigration laws, particularly for skilled immigrants, the president sent an even clearer signal.

But this isn’t the first time Obama has incorporated these issues into a key, national address. During his 2012 State of the Union, nearly a year ago today, the president made a similar appeal for reform to the immigration laws as they pertain to those trained in science and technology:

...let’s also remember that hundreds of thousands of talented, hard-working students in this country face another challenge: the fact that they aren’t yet American citizens. Many were brought here as small children, are American through and through, yet they live every day with the threat of deportation. Others came more recently, to study business and science and engineering, but as soon as they get their degree, we send them home to invent new products and create new jobs somewhere else. That doesn’t make sense.

Let’s see if, this time, the hope of advocates for reform of the nation’s skilled immigration laws is met, to use the president’s old campaign slogan, with actual change.

Read more on Innovations and a special roundtable of experts providing their innovation prescription for the incoming president and the new Congress on issues ranging from how best to communicate with millennials to climate change and R&D investment.



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