A group of Oklahoma's college and university presidents are calling on the state's five U.S. representatives to pass immigration reform this year.
In an open letter released Thursday, the heads of 13 Oklahoma colleges and universities called on the state's representatives in the U.S. House to “work together to develop a comprehensive, bipartisan solution” for immigration.
The letter cites the prevalence of foreign-born graduate students who are working toward degrees in fields related to science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. Gov. Mary Fallin has identified those areas as a critical need for the state.
In 2009, 55 percent of Oklahoma's graduate students in those fields were temporary residents with no clear path to stay in the country after graduation, according to the letter. Current U.S. immigration policy makes states unable to capitalize on those students, the letter states.
The letter also cites a recent study by the Partnership for a New American Economy and the American Enterprise Institute, which found that 262 jobs are created for every 100 foreign-born graduates of a master's or doctoral program who stays in the country and works in a STEM-related field.
Oklahoma City University President Robert Henry, one of the signers of the letter, said his university has students from more than 50 countries. They tend to be “very fine” students, he said, and many are pursuing degrees in areas the state needs.
Many of those students want to stay in the U.S. to work after graduation, he said, but they often can't because of visa issues. If those students had the chance to stay in the country after graduation, Oklahoma could reap economic benefits, he said.
“This is not a partisan issue, by any means,” he said.
Oklahoma's higher education leaders weren't alone in that sentiment. Eight presidents from Utah universities and 19 Florida college and university chiefs released similar letters Thursday.
In July, heads of 90 Catholic universities released an open letter calling on all Catholic members of Congress to reach a compromise on the immigration issue.