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Obama to prioritise immigration reform in 2014

President Barack Obama reiterated his intention to fix the US’s  “broken immigration system” in his State of the Union address to Congress yesterday. NAFSA have welcomed the address, which they say “once again acknowledges that immigration reform remains a top priority for the nation”.

"We urge Congress to act swiftly to enact legislation that expands our ability to attract the world’s talented students"

Last June the Senate passed a bi-partisan comprehensive immigration bill that would give a pathway to citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants as well as make green cards available to Master and PhD foreign STEM gradates.

In November, Republican John Boehner, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, announced that the Republican-controlled House would not negotiate the bill.

“When people come here to fulfill their dreams – to study, invent, and contribute to our culture – they make our country a more attractive place”

However, over the first few weeks of the year, Boehner and House leaders have shown signs that new legislation could appear soon.

In the address, the president restated that immigration reform is high on the agenda for his second term. “If we are serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labour leaders, faith leaders, and law enforcement – and fix our broken immigration system,” he said yesterday.

Obama added that independent economists have predicted that immigration reform will grow the US economy and shrink its deficits by almost $1 trillion over the next 20 years.

International students and their families alone contributed $24 billion to the US economy and created or supported 313,000 jobs in the 2012-2013 academic year, according to a recent NAFSA study.

“When people come here to fulfill their dreams – to study, invent, and contribute to our culture – they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everyone,” he said.

Pro-immigration business leaders in the technology and manufacturing sectors are pressing for more lenient reform that will grant more visas to highly-skilled workers and retain the brightest foreign graduates.

Marlene Johnson, executive director and CEO of NAFSA, which has nearly 10,000 members and is the world’s largest nonprofit association dedicated to international education, warned that without a “common sense immigration process”  US institutions may lose out on international students due to competition from other countries with more welcoming policies if it does not reform its own.

“Without reform, the United States risks losing the economic, academic and cultural contributions from these globally mobile students as they turn to other countries with friendlier immigration policies,” Johnson said.

“Without reform, the United States risks losing the economic, academic and cultural contributions from these globally mobile students”

The US market share of international students has dropped by 10% over the last decade, despite the number of internationally mobile students doubling in that time, according to OECD and Project Atlas.

Earlier this month, sources say Boehner confirmed that House Republican leaders were preparing to lay out “principles” for immigration legislation. Whatever is proposed will be debated in the House and, if passed, will go on to the Senate for negotiation.

“We urge Congress to act swiftly to enact legislation that expands our ability to attract the world’s talented students and scholars to our colleges and universities, strengthens our economy, and reclaims the values that make this nation a land of opportunity, equality and freedom for all,” added Johnson.

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