Why Comprehensive Immigration Reform Is a Must for Higher Ed

Public colleges and universities are institutions of access and opportunity, a mission as relevant today as at any time in our history. This is especially true of those institutions that comprise the membership of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). Thus, AASCU and others in the higher education community have worked to ensure that some basic principles are included in any comprehensive immigration reform, one of the more contentious and controversial issues that Congress is debating.

Passing the DREAM Act, reducing the wait time for green cards, and expanding H1-B visas should be critical priorities. Further, it is imperative that we learn from the mistakes in the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, legislation that has struggled to fix many of the problems we are confronted with today. In order for the U.S. to remain competitive with the rest of the world, it is crucial that we have a strong immigration system that retains talent here at home, but provides opportunity for others to enter our country. AASCU and our counterparts in higher education have identified the following priorities for immigration reform:

Pass the Dream Act. Every year an estimated 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school in the United States. Many of these students arrived in this country at a very young age and through no fault of their own. They have grown up identifying as Americans. These students are valuable contributors to society; they seek to stay in the U.S. to continue their education at our colleges and universities. As a society we should facilitate their growth and utilize the tremendous talents that immigrants bring to America. The DREAM Act, designed to do just this, would offer undocumented individuals the necessary access to federal loan and work-study programs.

Enhance H1-B Visas. H1-B visas allow employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations, the most common of these being biotechnology, medicine and law. We should create an uncapped exemption for professionals who have earned advanced degrees from U.S. institutions of higher education and for physicians in training. This exemption would allow more talented young people to stay in the U.S. and provide their skills to companies here at home. This is especially important for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates. An exemption to the H1-B visa cap would strengthen STEM programs at colleges and universities across the nation.

Streamline Green Cards. A Green Card holder is someone who has been granted authorization to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis; proof of that status is commonly called a "Green Card." Most individuals are sponsored by a family member or employer in the United States. Others may become permanent residents through refugee or asylum status or other humanitarian programs. We believe that Congress needs to increase the number of Green Cards available for immigrants. In addition, it must remove the country-by-country caps and stop counting spouses and children against the employment-based Green Card limit. Finally, we need the best and the brightest in their field to stay in the country following the completion of their studies. This includes allowing those that hold STEM degrees from U.S. higher education institutions to have a streamlined Green Card process.

In the coming months immigration will be a key issue for AASCU and the higher education community. We stand fully committed to working on common sense immigration reform and will continue to fight for educational opportunity for talented students, many of whom are served by the regional, public comprehensive institutions that comprise the AASCU membership.