Presidents of Kentucky Universities Press Senators McConnell, Paul on Immigration Reform

Feb 27, 2013

The presidents of Kentucky's public universities have signed a letter urging the state's U.S. senators to help overhaul the immigration system.

The letter, dated Tuesday and addressed to Republicans Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, said American universities educate some of the world's top international students only to see some of them leave under current immigration policies and work for competing companies abroad.

"Kentucky cannot afford to wait to fix our immigration system," the letter stated. "As we send away highly skilled workers trained at Kentucky and other American universities, competing international economies are welcoming these scientists and engineers."

The letter calls for a bipartisan solution to ensure these graduates have a clear path to a green card.

Current U.S. immigration policy allows for 140,000 employment-based admissions to the U.S., which include workers' spouses and children, according to a November report from the Congressional Research Service. In 2009, there were 149,000 full-time graduate students in science, engineering, and health fields who were foreign students, CRS reported.

Republicans in the U.S. House tried to address the issue last year, passing the "STEM Jobs Act." But Senate Democrats blocked the bill. They said it would have taken away visas from other workers and said more sweeping immigration reform was needed.

Here is the full text of the letter:

February 26, 2013

Senator Mitch McConnell
317 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Senator Rand Paul
208 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senator McConnell and Senator Paul:

As leaders of Kentucky’s universities educating the creators of tomorrow’s scientific breakthroughs, we call on you to address a critical threat to America’s preeminence as a global center of innovation and prosperity: our inability under current United States immigration policy to retain and benefit from many of the top minds educated at our universities.

From the industrial revolution to today’s information age, the United States has led the world in creating the inventions and ideas that drive economic prosperity. American universities are responsible for 36 percent of all research in the country, including 53 percent of all basic research, and they help keep America at the forefront of the 21st century economy. The Federal Government has recognized the importance of university research by providing roughly 60 percent of all academic R&D funding.

American academic research has benefited from the fact that the US remains a top magnet for the world’s best and brightest students and graduates 16 percent of all PhDs worldwide in scientific and technical fields. In 2009, students on temporary visas were 45 percent of all graduate students in engineering, math, computer science and physical sciences – earning 43 percent of all master’s degrees and 52 percent of all Ph.Ds. New research shows that in 2011, foreign-born inventors were credited contributors on more than 75 percent of patents issued to the top 10 patent-producing universities in the United States – irrefutable proof of the important role immigrants play in American innovation. These inventions lead to new companies and new jobs for American workers, and are an enormous boon to our economy.

But after we have trained and educated these future job creators, our antiquated immigration laws turn them away to work for our competitors in other countries. Low limits on visas leave immigrants with no way to stay or facing untenable delays for a permanent visa. Top engineers from India and China face wait times of up to 9 years to get a permanent visa, and new applicants from these countries may face considerably longer waits. And while we turn away these American-educated, trained and funded scientists and engineers, there is a growing skill gap across America’s industries. One quarter of U.S. science and engineering firms already report difficulty hiring, and the problem will only worsen: the U.S. is projected to face a shortfall of 230,000 qualified advanced-degree workers in scientific and
technical fields by 2018.

Kentucky cannot afford to wait to fix our immigration system. As we send away highly skilled workers trained at Kentucky and other American universities, competing international economies are welcoming these scientists and engineers with streamlined visa applications and creating dedicated visas to ensure that the foreign students who graduate from their own universities can stay and
contribute to the local economy.

We ask you to work together to develop a bipartisan solution that ensures our top international graduates have a clear path to a green card, so they can stay and create new jobs here in Kentucky and across America. Recent polls show that there is broad, bipartisan support for this reform, and that the American people want our leaders in Washington to act. Now is the time to do so and ensure that the U.S. remains the world’s leading home for innovators.


Eli Capilouto
University of Kentucky

Randy J. Dunn
Murray State University

Robert L. King
Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education

James R. Ramsey
University of Louisville

Gary A. Ransdell
Western Kentucky University

Doug Whitlock
Eastern Kentucky University

Geoffrey S. Mearns
Northern Kentucky University

Wayne D. Andrews
Morehead State University