August 7, 2011

In Senate Subcommittee Testimony, Skorton Urges Immigration Reform

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — President David Skorton emphasized the need to reform America’s immigration policies as he spoke before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security on Tuesday.

Skorton argued that an expedited immigration process for international students — including the many who study at Cornell — would spur national and regional economic development.

The hearing, entitled “The Economics Imperative for Enacting Reform,” included two panels of experts in the fields of high-skilled immigration and jobs. Skorton’s perspective as an educator and academic administrator provided an important perspective for the hearing, according to Dianne Miller, Cornell’s director of federal relations.

“President Skorton’s testimony helped to highlight the role that universities like Cornell play in shaping the workforce of the future. Universities have to be involved in the debate to fix our broken immigration system, or else we stand to lose the best international students,” Miller said via email.

Speaking on behalf of the Association for American Universities, a non-profit organization of 61 public and private universities in the U.S. and Canada, Skorton highlighted the importance of federal immigration policies to Cornell, which he described as the “largest and most comprehensive school in the Ivy League.”

Cornell’s international students comrpise 17.5 percent of the full student body and hail from more than 120 countries, Skorton said.

In his testimony, Skorton described the valuable contributions international students, especially graduates in the STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — fields, have already made to the economy.

According to the Department of Commerce, international students have contributed nearly $20 billion the nation’s economy, Skorton said.

“In a small town like Ithaca, the $138.7 million economic impact of our international student population cannot be overstated. It is one of the reasons why Tompkins County has one of the most robust local economies in New York State,” Skorton said.

According to Skorton, international students can also help fill the gap between the number of STEM jobs available in the U.S. and the number of qualified workers.

Unfilled STEM jobs are the result of a lack of “qualified or interested American students to fill the slots in STEM undergraduate and graduate programs,” Skorton said. To reduce this problem, Skorton also supported an emphasis on elementary and secondary STEM education and teacher training programs.

Legal immigration policies must be adjusted so that qualified international students in these fields can fill a demand for such jobs in the U.S., Skorton said.

Although allowing that the student visa program, albeit slow, “works reasonably well,”  Skorton said international students face additional problems when attempting to enter the nation’s workforce after graduation.

Aside from the Optional Professional Training program, which grants students temporary visa extensions, “there is little that universities can do to influence the immigration process,” Skorton said.

These difficulties in the current immigration system have led international graduates and other immigrants to seek employment elsewhere, in countries such as England, Australia and Canada, Skorton said.

Unlike the U.S., these countries “encourage and promote immigrant entrepreneurs with streamlined visa application processes, more flexible pathways to permanent residence or citizenship and special consideration for entrepreneurs with venture funding,” he said.

Moreover, as their home countries develop and become more competitive, international graduates are attracted to return home to work, he said.

“We must reach a consensus on comprehensive immigration reform that balances our physical and economic security with the realities of our growing immigrant population and our changing national workforce needs,” said Skorton, who also supported the failed DREAM Act, which would have assisted undocumented students in acquiring permanent residency in United States.

Original Author: Cindy Huynh