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US university presidents call on Obama, Congress for green cards for international grads

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Ninety presidents of leading U.S. universities have sent a letter to President Obama and Congress calling for a bipartisan solution that ensures top international graduates have a clear path to a green card.

Immigrant inventors and entrepreneurs from American universities were responsible for 76 percent of all patents in 2011. Now, leaders from many of those schools are asking President Obama and Congress to find a way to keep that talent in the U.S.

Dr. Jean-Lou Chameau came to the United States in 1976 as a civil engineer from France seeking a PhD from Stanford University. Now he’s the president of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), the Pasadena-based private research university that focuses on science and engineering.

Chameau says it was relatively easy to apply for a green card to stay here after finishing his PhD. But these days, work visa limits and a complex immigration system make it much more difficult for foreign students.

Dr. Chameau says various industries, and the overall U.S. economy, need these graduates to find legal ways to stay and work.

“This topic is always a little bit confused with [wider] immigration issues that the country is dealing with," Chameau said. "What we are talking here is not really an immigration policy, but a talent policy. [Immigrant students] perform extremely well, and we should in fact be welcoming them, rather than making it hard for them to stay.”

In recent years, fewer than 70,000 green cards have become available each year to all foreigners in the U.S. on a temporary work visa. Yet there are at least 200,000 immigrants and foreign students in the science, engineering and health care fields alone who qualify.

The call for reform comes from a bipartisan group of more than 450 politicians and business leaders.

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