Every year at the great universities in this region, we hand degrees to hundreds of students from around the globe. At the University of Cincinnati alone this spring, nearly 500 of the graduates came from more than 70 countries.
Few of these graduates stay here; some must return to their home countries once their student visas expire, others are recruited to cities that are more aggressive in overcoming barriers to hiring international students.
These same students earn degrees in science, technology, math and medicine at rates much greater than our native population and are ready, even eager, to fill the many open jobs we have in these sectors.
Think about that for a moment. We educate international students only to ship them and their knowledge away at the completion of their studies. Yet we need these engineers, software developers, doctors, and more to keep our tech sector strong.
Currently, we rank 11th of 12 cities in our peer set (regional-indicators.org) in foreign-born population.
We leave other opportunities on the table too.
We’ve made great progress in building out our entrepreneurial ecosystem. Last week’s roundtable was hosted at the Brandery in Over-the-Rhine, a startup accelerator ranked 10th in the nation for its track record in growing young companies.
With that kind of credibility, entrepreneurs are clamoring to come to Cincinnati and build companies here. But the selection team leaves applications from some 40 countries largely untouched because it is simply too complicated to move those international entrepreneurs here under present immigration law.
Competitive regions are ahead of us in their global orientation. In the latest round of annual applications for 85,000 federal H-1B visas for highly skilled workers, the supply was exhausted in just five days. Again, Cincinnati lags behind our competition, with Columbus winning nearly twice as many visas and Austin, Texas, a top performer, winning nearly 250 percent more.
Looking at startups, a 2012 Kauffman Foundation report noted that immigrants are disproportionately entrepreneurial – nearly 25 percent of engineering and technology companies founded in the U.S. between 2006 and 2012 had at least one foreign-born founder. Attracting more highly skilled immigrants would supply steady fuel to our tech sector and startup community.
So at the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, we believe it’s time for us to step up our efforts to achieve immigration reform for America and claim a greater share of immigrants – and the inherent benefits – for our community. It’s a smart, high-value solution to our current and projected talent gap and will help us to compete effectively in new markets in the U.S. and around the globe.
With immigration reform, the number of international transplants coming to our region could rise to a transformative level.
That’s why the chamber, supported by many of our members, has continued to carry a message of immigration reform to the elected officials who represent us in Washington.