Florida college and university presidents have written a public letter telling Florida Congress members that the future of the state’s economy hinges on passage of immigration reform.
Presidents of 18 schools of higher education, both public and private, plus the president of a statewide organization of private colleges and universities, signed the letter. It warned lawmakers that the state’s economic prospects depend on retaining Florida graduates, many of whom are foreigners, in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
They said Congress must address an urgent issue: “our inability under current United States immigration policy to retain and capitalize on the talented individuals we are training in our universities and colleges.”
“Fixing our immigration system will be critical to scientific growth at Florida’s universities and economic growth in our state,” the letter said. “In 2009, 53 percent of the students earning Master’s or PhDs in STEM fields from Florida’s research-intensive universities were temporary residents, a group with no clear path to stay in America after graduation.”
“More than 60 percent of our students earning engineering PhDs in recent years were also non-citizens,” the letter continued. “As leaders of Florida’s universities and colleges, educating the next generation of entrepreneurs, scientists and global pioneers, we call on you to address a critical threat to America’s preeminence as the center of innovation and prosperity.”
The letter comes as the effort to pass immigration reform has lost steam in the Congress. In June the Senate, with a bipartisan effort, passed a bill that provides a path to citizenship for most of the 11 million persons in the country illegally and also makes it easier for foreign students in the STEM fields to stay and work in the U.S.
The House Judiciary Committee has also approved a bill, known as the SKILLS Visa Act, which allocates green cards to foreign graduates in the STEM fields. But many GOP House members say they will not back a pathway to citizenship – which they call amnesty. The difference between the parties on that issue could make final passage of a reform bill impossible.
So far, the Florida House delegation is almost evenly split on legislation resembling the Senate bill. All 10 Democrats and three Republicans have voiced support. The other 12 are all Republicans and have not.
Among the educators who signed the letter were the presidents of Lynn University in Boca Raton, the University of Miami, Florida International University, also in Miami, and the University of South Florida, in Tampa. The educators said not passing immigration reform would eliminate future Florida entrepreneurs.
“Foreign-born students create jobs for Florida and often provide the technological innovations that drive economic growth in the state,” the letter said. “Immigrants are more than twice as likely to start a business and immigrant-owned businesses in Florida generate about $13.3 billion in income for the state each year.”
The letter cited a recent study that found for every 100 foreign-born graduates of a U.S. Master’s or PhD program who stay in the U.S. working in a STEM field, 262 jobs were created for U.S. workers.
“But in Florida our share of foreign-born STEM advanced degree holders working in STEM fields decreased by 17 percent between 2000 and 2010,” the educators said. “From 2009 to 2011, 1.4 STEM jobs were posted on line in Florida for every one unemployed STEM worker in the state.”
“Florida cannot afford to wait to fix our immigration system,” the educators concluded. “We ask you to work together to develop a comprehensive, bipartisan solution because all parts of our economy – from education to agriculture to housing to business – need it. Now is the time for Washington leaders to act and ensure that the US can continue to compete on the global stage.”
U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, a supporter of the reform, addressed a business group on the topic Monday.
“Leaders in virtually every sector of business in Florida, from agriculture and technology to the service industry and now higher education are uniting in support of reform,” he said. “Failure to address our broken immigration system would be a huge missed opportunity to grow our economy and reduce our deficit, create more jobs, and encourage more innovation.”