Time to move on immigration reform

Time to move on immigration reform


More than 60 international students had already studied at Michigan State by the time of its semi-centennial celebration in 1907. They came mostly due to MSU’s reputation for leadership in agricultural science, but they certainly contributed much by helping broaden the perspectives of their fellow students.

From almost the beginning, Michigan State served its stakeholders by bringing some of the best of the world to Michigan and exposing the best of Michigan to the world. MSU’s status as a truly global university was affirmed when its president, John Hannah, established the nation’s first Office of International Studies and Programs in 1956. Hannah envisioned a more engaged role for land-grant universities in an increasingly connected world.

Michigan itself grew with us through the years, thanks in no small part to waves of immigration from every corner of the world. Motivated to build a better life, these determined people brought their talent and initiative—assets we continue to enjoy today when somebody stakes his or her future on creating success in Michigan. Immigrants, moreover, make an outsized contribution to innovation.

“More than three out of every four patents (76 percent) that the top 10 U.S. patent-producing universities received in 2011 had an immigrant inventor,” some of my university president colleagues noted in a March 5 letter on behalf of the Partnership for a New American Economy. “Keeping these inventors in the U.S. after graduation would help power American innovation and create American jobs.”

Governor Rick Snyder has argued the same on many occasions, as have many voices in the business community. A program launched by MSU and partner universities now is designated the official international student retention branch of the governor’s Global Michigan Initiative.

The University Research Corridor, comprising MSU, the University of Michigan, and Wayne State University, won a three-year, $450,000 grant from the New Economy Initiative of Southeast Michigan to work to keep talented international students in the Detroit area. Starting last December, the Michigan Economic Development Corp. added its support to help expand the program statewide as the Global Talent Retention Initiative of Michigan. The program’s objectives include marketing the region to international students, recruiting employers to hire international students, and navigating legal barriers to immigration.

Now immigration reform is finally moving to the front burner in Washington. I join many of my colleagues here and around the country in urging action to allow Michigan and America to retain more of the talent we develop.

Graduate students, especially those in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines, are essential contributors to our national research sector and, thus, to our capacity to innovate and compete. If an advanced degree offered a more straightforward path to a “green card,” the most talented students from around the world would be more likely to study here. Immigration reform, furthermore, also would allow us to better recruit and retain the world’s best faculty. 

Today, what I call Michigan State’s “world grant” approach continues to serve the people of Michigan, offering global portals of opportunity via our international study, research, and engagement programs and broadened understanding through our own international student body.

Michigan State enrolled more than 6,200 international undergraduate and graduate students this spring, many of whom would stay if they could. Allowing them a better chance through a realistic and rational path would not only promote their own integration into our community and engagement as students but also would benefit Michigan’s economy, improving the state’s ability to retain its own homegrown talent.


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