Proposal would keep door open for international students

Gov. Tim Pawlenty is trying to make it easier for international students in science and technology to stay and work in the state after graduation.

Elizabeth Giorgi

After attending the University, international students donít always get to stay in the country because of expired student visas.

But with Gov. Tim Pawlentyís immigration proposals, some would be able to work in Minnesota and pursue careers in their fields after college.

Pawlenty has been working on several proposals to increase the amount of legal immigrants and decrease the number of illegal immigrants in Minnesota.

With one of his most recent proposals, Pawlenty hopes to lobby the federal government for more H-1B visas to help those studying and working in science and technology fields to stay and pursue careers in Minnesota.

Currently, international students must return to their home country after graduation and cannot stay in the area to seek a job, said Craig Peterson, attorney and former University International Student and Scholar Services employee.

Minnesota is losing many talented individuals in the science and technology fields because of this, he said.

But if Pawlenty is successful in lobbying his proposals later this month when he visits Washington, D.C., he might influence legislators to expand the number of H1-B visas that are made available each fiscal year, said Pawlentyís Director of Communications Brian McClung.

Peterson said that if Pawlenty works as a lone voice he will not be successful, but if he gathers the support of other governors, business leaders and community leaders, and they all stand together on the issue, Congress will listen.

Pawlenty specifically hopes to make it possible for immigrants who have studied and worked in science and technology fields to stay in the country, because Minnesota has a demand for educated individuals in those fields, Peterson said.

Peterson said it is common for students to return to their home country after graduation and try to obtain an H-1B visa. However, there are only about 65,000 available each year, and they are gone very quickly.

ì(The U.S.) has too small a number of visas Ö on the first day of the federal fiscal year they are all allocated and gone because the demand is quite large,” said Humphrey Institute professor Katherine Fennelly.

Many times businesses already will have allocated for a large number of the H-1B visas, and individuals will lose out, she said.

Fennelly said one of the main problems surrounding this issue is that many graduates will decide to leave the United States and pursue careers in Canada or the United Kingdom, because the visa restrictions are less rigorous in those countries.

ìThere are many very bright, skilled workers who would benefit the U.S., and some of them are our students,” she said.

Minnesota might lose those workers if there isnít a solution to the visa problem, Fennelly said.

Mechanical engineering senior Kane Ishibashi is attending the University on a student visa and will have to return to Japan after graduating.

Ishibashi said he would like to remain in the United States to seek a career in engineering, but it is not a possibility for him.

ìI would stay, but it is about getting that visa and that is all,” he said.

Josh Baller, math and genetics sophomore and vice president of the Minnesota International Student Association, said that sometimes immigrantsí visas expire and they remain in Minnesota illegally.

Baller said he is hopeful that expansion of visa access will ìcurb illegal immigration.”

The challenge of receiving a visa for many international students has led some to illegal immigration, said history professor Erika Lee, but it also has caused an increase in the amount of competition from other universities abroad.

ìThe United States is no longer the main place that international students are coming to,” she said.

There has been a reinvestment by universities in Europe and China to provide more resources to its students to increase competition and keep many students at home, Lee said.

Pawlentyís proposal is moving in the right direction to increase the amount of legal immigrants, however, it is going to be difficult to make up for lost time, she said.

ìIt might be too little too late,” she said.