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Thorp signs letter advocating for simpler immigration process for students

A hundred university leaders signed a letter demanding a streamlined immigration process for international graduating students in fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp and UNC-system President Thomas Ross were some of the signatories to the letter, which calls for an easier path to permanent residency for international students.

Universities have long argued that changes in immigration policy are needed to give the nation a competitive economic edge. But past attempts to reform immigration policy have been met with congressional inaction.

Elizabeth Barnum, director of international student and scholar services at UNC-CH, said the difficulty of the process may keep talented students from coming to the U.S. — they may be attracted to other countries with easier policies, she said.

Thorp said acquiring a visa is a tedious and costly process for foreign students.

“People who are highly trained within appropriate review should qualify for permanent residence in the United States. Exporting them just doesn’t make sense,” he said.

Barnum said many international students are in the country on temporary visas, which allow them to pursue a program of study and a period of optional practical training. But once they finish, current law requires them to leave the country.

Students who receive a work visa can expect to wait approximately 10 years before their request for permanent residency is granted, Barnum said.

She said current policy presents hurdles for employers to hire talented foreign students.

“It’s just been really difficult for U.S. businesses to deal with the law and keep these people working for them,” she said.

She said changing the current policy would benefit both international students and the U.S. economy.

The letter was signed by the leaders of Duke University, Wake Forest University, N.C. State University and UNC-Charlotte. Ross endorsed the initiative on behalf of the UNC system.

Joni Worthington, spokeswoman for the UNC system, said the system’s Board of Governors has prioritized advocating immigration reform that facilitates recruiting students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Written by the Partnership for a New American Economy, the letter is addressed to President Barack Obama and leaders of Congress.

Barnum said she was unsure if changes would be made this year, but she is hopeful reform will take place in the near future.

“There has been some bipartisan support, specifically because U.S. industry is behind it,” said Barnum.

Thorp said he believes this is an issue that both sides of the ideological spectrum can agree on.

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