Goodnight: Our country must modernize immigration laws to keep talent

Apr. 16, 2013 @ 02:22 PM

In today’s global economy, innovation is the key to sustained growth and success. At SAS, we have long recognized this fact; it is why we are so committed to attracting and retaining the best and brightest minds from across the globe.

For us and our nation to continue moving forward and competing globally, however, we need to modernize our current immigration policies. As a nation built by immigrants and their entrepreneurial spirit, we welcome the many creative minds who want to come here and thrive.

The countries we compete against are increasingly placing an early emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education. These are the students who are growing up to be our competitors.

When they want to come to the United States, we should welcome them with open arms.

When we educate them at a North Carolina university, we should do everything in our power to convince them to stay and work in a North Carolina company or start a business here and hire North Carolina employees.

SAS is a knowledge company. Everything we do comes from the minds of the people who work here. Unfortunately, some of the advanced STEM skills required in our business are in short supply. Far too often here in the Triangle, we watch as some of the brightest and most talented young minds from around the world are educated and then forced to return to their home countries because of antiquated immigration laws.

Once there, these bright young minds go to work for our competitors, developing new ideas and new technologies. SAS and countless other American technology companies would gladly hire these young people, bringing their dynamism and talents to our firms and fostering the next great innovation. But our broken immigration system prevents it.

Besides the work that we are doing to encourage American students to enter STEM disciplines, we should remove the legal requirements that force these foreign students to return home once they have finished their studies here.

Currently, foreign students can stay in the U.S. after they have finished their studies, but only if they can obtain an H1-B visa, the numbers of which are too restrictively capped. A modest but effective start would simply be to raise the cap on the H1-B visas available for students and set aside enough visas to retain the graduates of American universities who will be the innovators of the future. This is the approach taken in bills such as the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013, and is an approach that should be supported and encouraged.

Put simply, our nation’s economy has evolved in ways that could not have even been imagined when we last overhauled our immigration system. The time has come fix it in a smart, bipartisan and comprehensive fashion. I am hopeful that Congress will continue working together to ensure we have a 21st Century immigration policy to match our 21st Century economy.


James Goodnight is the chief executive officer of Triangle-based SAS.