Goodnight, Triangle business leaders call for immigration reform
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Raleigh, N.C. — Several Triangle business leaders participated in the National Day of Action on Wednesday, as groups nationwide called on Congress to push forward on stalled immigration reform measures.
Although farming and construction are heavily dependent on immigrant labor, business leaders said fields such as biotechnology and engineering also suffer because of U.S. immigration rules.
Foreign students make up 55 percent of full-time graduate students in the U.S. in science, technology, engineering and math, according to a report from the Council of Graduate Schools, but many of them aren't eligible to stay in the country after graduation and work here.
"If we don't capture the best and brightest and we let them go back overseas, then that's where the innovation is going to occur," said Jim Goodnight, co-founder of Cary software developer SAS Institute.
Goodnight and other local business leaders said the U.S. needs a plan that seals the borders and expands visas for farm workers and highly skilled employees.
"Now's the time to take action, and simply kicking the can down the road is not a solution," said Harvey Schmitt, president of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce.
The U.S. caps the number of visas for skilled workers at 85,000 a year.
"Of those, 20,000 are set aside for foreign students with advanced degrees from U.S. universities," Goodnight said.
Many Triangle companies complain there is a gap in filling specialized jobs in science and technology. Goodnight said it sometimes takes up to two years to fill a position.
"It's about jobs and economic growth, opportunity and how to keep America competitive," Morrisville Town Councilman Steve Rao said of the importance of immigration reform.
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