South Carolina’s research facilities, companies and universities have a stake in the passage of an immigration reform measure making its way through Congress. The U.S. Senate Judiciary has passed an amended version of Sen. Lindsey Graham’s immigration reform bill. Graham and a bipartisan “Gang of Eight” initiated legislation to both set up a citizenship process for millions of illegal residents and improve border security.
The Senate’s bill would allow more highly skilled workers into the U.S. and creates a citizenship process for current illegal immigrants called “registered provisional immigrant status.”
University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides signed a letter earlier this year urging lawmakers to address immigration law that has not been changed in more than 40 years.
“I can tell you we have a brain drain happening right now in the United States. We welcome international students by the tens of thousands. They come from countries all over the world; some of them are our business competitors. They do great work while they are here, but instead of inviting them to remain and contribute to the U.S. economy and perhaps find a pathway to citizenship as an engineer, a mathematician, as a chemist, we put them on the first plane back to their home country,” Pastides says.
“Immigration reform has to focus as well on the upper side of the educational spectrum as well, ” he says. “If you look at South Carolina where we almost can’t produce as many engineers as the Boeings and the Michelins and many other companies in this state need and we’re importing them from other states and all over the world, why not funnel them right into these jobs? If they perform well, law-abiding, paying taxes, contributing to the economy, let’s let them stay.”
Pastides, who once led the Centers of Economic Excellence as a scientist (now SmartState) says he has seen post-graduate researchers be sent home in the midst of significant research or patents.
“I’m not implying that they are better than our students, we just don’t have enough of (high tech students),” he adds. “I’m hopeful that we get immigration reform this year.”