Recognizing the important contributions of immigrants

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Yet in about five years, this country is projected to face a 230,000-worker shortage in exactly these areas and that number is only set to increase. That is why it is imperative that we begin immigration reform now and expand the visa program for foreign-born STEM students looking to work in this country after graduation.

As a PhD candidate at Ohio State University originally from India, I am one of those students. I came here in 2006 to study aerospace engineering and I have been working on the design of the next generation of aircraft control systems ever since. For the past six years, I’ve been working on projects for the U.S. Army, the U.S. Air Force and NASA and in fact, those projects have supported my education here in the States. Every day I work towards making these organizations better, stronger and more innovative.

I will earn my degree at the end of this year and my top choice is to stay and continue working as an aerospace engineer for the U.S. Department of Defense. The good news is that my skills are in high demand. The bad news is that immigration laws make it almost impossible for me to apply them here.

Since April, I have looked at about 250 jobs and interviewed for several job positions but the process always stops once I reveal that I need a visa. Every conversation is the same – companies tell me that they are impressed with my work and they know I would be able to contribute to theirs but the immigration system is enough of a deterrent for them to disqualify me immediately.

Unfortunately, I am not an anomaly. Every year, we invite the brightest minds from around the world to study at our universities, only to deport them upon graduation to compete with us from abroad. The data shows that these immigrants consistently succeed in driving innovation, starting companies and creating jobs – in fact more so than their American counterparts.

Research by the bipartisan Partnership for a New American Economy shows that 76 percent of patents from the top 10 patent-producing universities in the country had a foreign-born inventor in 2011.  And those patents are often the foundation for new companies that create jobs and contribute to the economy. Economists have found that immigrants are more than twice as likely to start a business as the native-born, which helps explain why immigrants founded 28 percent of all new businesses opened in America in 2011.

Meanwhile, our defense industry depends on scientists and engineers, and our educational system does not produce nearly enough scientists and engineers to fuel their need.  Yet we send away many of the innovators that our universities do produce, merely because they were born abroad.
If that logic sounds backwards, it’s because it is and other countries know it. While the U.S. actively turns talent away, other countries are doing the opposite – working hard to incentivize immigrants like me to come and work for them. The tactic is working; for example, aerospace engineering is noticeably on the rise in Australia and China.

Upon graduation in December, I will have until March to find a job here in the States. Otherwise, I will lose the opportunity to work in a country that I’ve grown to love and the Army, Air Force and NASA will lose the opportunity to work with an aerospace engineer who has been training and working with them for six years. America must find a way to keep its U.S.-trained scientists here and welcome them with open arms. Our economy and our national security depend on it.

Belapurkar is a PhD candidate in Aerospace Engineering at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. He is set to graduate at the end of this year.

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