By: President John L. Anderson, PhD, Illinois Institute of Technology; President Douglas D. Baker, PhD, Northern Illinois University; and President Robert A. Easter, PhD, University of Illinois

Graduation ceremonies are times of celebration for those of us who are presidents of colleges and universities here in Illinois. As university leaders charged with educating the next generation of our state’s innovators, we applaud the accomplishments of all of our graduates, and particularly those awarded degrees in high-demand STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math).  However, graduation ceremonies also put our flawed immigration system center stage—a system that inhibits economic growth and must be a priority for meaningful reform this legislative session. As university presidents, we are acutely aware of the connection between immigration and innovation in Illinois—and are deeply troubled by the fact that a significant portion of our students are unable to stay in the U.S. after they graduate.  Immigrant students in Illinois earning STEM degrees at our universities now represent nearly one out of every four (24%) Illinois graduates in those fields (up from 18% between 2011 and 2012). In addition, in 2012, nearly half (44%) of our Masters and Ph.D. graduates in STEM fields across Illinois – almost 3,000 – were temporary resident immigrants, many of whom were  unable to stay in the state to work after they graduated.

Additionally, a significant number of companies created through our university programs each year are founded by foreign-born entrepreneurs – both permanent and temporary residents.  According to data compiled by the Illinois Science & Technology Coalition, at least 36 percent of the 223 active companies created from Illinois universities since 2010 have an immigrant or foreign-born founder or co-founder. Immigrant students create jobs for Illinois and provide technological innovations that drive economic growth in the state.  Yet, U.S. immigration policy continues to be at odds with national economic competitiveness objectives.  An inadequate supply of annual visas, often exhausted in just a matter of weeks, chases foreign-born graduates away, depriving our state and nation of their talents. Our loss directly translates into a gain for our foreign competitor nations who eagerly snap up the graduates who we have spent time and resources to educate.

Changes to the H-1B visa process would be a huge step forward, allowing foreign-born students to live, work and make economic contributions to the nation in which they were educated. One recent study found that for every 100 foreign-born Master’s or Ph.D. graduates who stay in the U.S. and work in a STEM field, an average of 262 new jobs are created. Moreover, expanding the number of visas available to high-skilled workers would create more than 11,000 total new jobs in our state and add more than $1.1 billion to the Illinois Gross State Product in the first year alone. While we are committed to cultivating a STEM talent pipeline within our borders, we cannot afford to lose the talents of the men and women whom we are educating here and have much to contribute to our universities, businesses, communities and economy as a whole.   This especially includes the DREAMers, some of our most motivated students, who came to the U.S. with their parents as a child.  Through the efforts of the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition, we are committed to continuing to work with our elected officials in Congress to support—and achieve—meaningful immigration reform that includes expansion of visas and a path to citizenship for the undocumented immigrants.

Watch and Listen:

Quick Look at Immigration Reform


More News:

IBIC Invite: Immigration Reform Bottom Line 2014 Event June 9th 2014

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