Talent trained here shouldn't be sent packing

  • Article by: AMY KLOBUCHAR
  • Updated: February 13, 2013 - 7:13 AM

But under current policy, it's a common threat. It's among the things in immigration law that we must fix.

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Since our state's earliest days, immigration has kept Minnesota strong and competitive.

From our Scandinavian and German roots, to our Slovenians and Croatians and Serbs on the Iron Range, to our thriving Hmong and Somali communities, our state's heritage is filled with immigrants working on the front lines, starting companies and expanding economic opportunity for all of us.

Successful companies like Medtronic, 3M and Hormel were founded by children of immigrants. One walk through the Midtown Global Market on Lake Street in Minneapolis makes clear that we are richer for opening our doors to people from other places.

Minnesota's story is America's story.

More than 30 percent of U.S. Nobel laureates were born in other countries, and 90 of America's Fortune 500 companies were started by immigrants. Workers, dreamers, inventors, scientists and researchers from around the world have literally built America. In an increasingly global economy, they are a big part of keeping our country competitive today.

But we also know that our current immigration system is broken.

That is why the U.S. Senate is coming together for accountable immigration reform that includes a pathway to earned citizenship, better enforcement of existing laws and stronger border security.

There's also the challenge of attracting and retaining the world's top minds.

Take Dr. Puneet Arora. He left his native India in 1996 to come to the United States to study medicine. He won a fellowship in advanced diabetes at the Mayo Clinic, treated low-income patients in St. Paul and taught at the University of Minnesota. Eventually he became a medical director at an innovative biotech firm.

But Dr. Arora had to wait 16 years before he was finally able to secure a "green card" with status as a permanent U.S. resident. In the meantime, he bounced from one short-term visa to another, always at risk of being forced out of the country where he had built his life and already had contributed so much.

At a time when we need medical professionals like Dr. Arora in rural and underserved areas -- at a time when we know that every high-tech worker and engineer we bring to this country generates as many as five additional American jobs -- why would we turn them away?

Why would we allow unlimited visas for professional sports players (check out the roster for our great Wild hockey team) but have limits for engineers and scientists -- limits that have shrunk to just one-third of what they were a decade ago?

Last week, along with Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, I introduced bipartisan legislation to fix this problem. It's called the Immigration Innovation Act, also known as "I-Squared." Cosponsors include Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, as well as a dozen other senators who have joined in just the past week.

The legislation reforms our green card and visa systems while retaining more workable limits. It helps ensure that students from other countries who obtain advanced science-related degrees in American universities are able to stay here to start the next Google or 3M in our country, instead of using their American education to start it in China.

These provisions have drawn support from college presidents from St. Paul to St. Cloud to Moorhead.

Just as importantly, with business support across the country, the legislation increases the fees that businesses pay for green cards and visas and dedicates that money (which will likely be a minimum of $3 billion in 10 years) to educate American students in science-related fields and prepare our own workers for the jobs of both today and tomorrow.

The economic opportunity is ours for the taking.

America must once again be a country that invents, makes things and exports to the world. To do it, we need the world's talent.

We don't know who will create the next pacemaker or Post-it Note. But we do know one thing: When they do, we want them doing it right here in America.

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Amy Klobuchar represents Minnesota in the U.S. Senate.

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