This article was originally published by The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student paper, The Daily Tarheel.
When freshman James Ellsmoor graduates from UNC-CH, he wants to be able to stay in the United States and work—and a federal proposal might make it easier for him to do that.
Ellsmoor, an international student from Manchester, England, said obtaining citizenship is nearly impossible under the current immigration system.
But a bipartisan group of US senators outlined principles for changes to the nation’s immigration system Monday—including measures that would make it easier for international students who obtain degrees in mathematics, engineering or science to remain in the country. “It would be an incentive to stay—if not permanently, just for a few years after graduation, which I’d quite like to do,” Ellsmoor said.
The senators’ plan also offers a pathway to citizenship to the 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States and proposes tightening border security and creating an effective system to verify the immigration status of workers.
President Barack Obama agreed with many of the proposals in a speech Tuesday and said the changes would have economic and cultural benefits. “The promise we see in those who come here from every corner of the globe—that’s always been one of our greatest strengths,” he said. `Obama went on to outline similar immigration proposals and said he would introduce his own bill to spur Congress to act.
Kimrey Rhinehardt, the UNC system’s vice president for federal relations, said she was optimistic that the changes would become law this year—but that they were not the only answer in what will be a gradual process. Rhinehardt said the system supports the plan’s stance on foreign students. “Knowledge would be here, and we wouldn’t be exporting it,” she said.
Obtaining visas is an ongoing issue for international students once they graduate, said Elizabeth Barnum, director of UNC-CH’s International Student and Scholar Services. Jacqui Slorach, a freshman psychology and economics major, is from Melbourne, Australia. She said she would be inclined to live in the United States if she could obtain a green card. “The issue with living in Australia is that there isn’t the international business base to work on, so it’d be more beneficial for me to work in the US or Europe,” she said.
Turker Bulut, a freshman computer engineering and economics major from Istanbul, Turkey, said he also hopes to work in the US for a few years after graduating. He said it was difficult to obtain a student visa. “It’s a very long and tedious process,” he said. “Nothing can be missing when you go there for the interview.”
But the proposal has drawn criticism for its policies on illegal immigration.
Marguerite Telford, director of communications for the Center for Immigration Studies, said the legislation should have increased enforcement measures to curb illegal immigration. “We cannot afford to increase our immigration numbers or to have a full amnesty,” Telford said.
Jose Rico, a spokesman for the NC DREAM Team, an immigrant advocacy group, said the plan is a step in the right direction but does not go far enough in addressing the concerns of all immigrants. “There are a few things the community needs: to be able to live here without fear of being persecuted, to be able to have a work permit, to be able to drive without being harassed by the police and to stop being separated from their families,” he said.
“I hope that (Obama) will target some of the things we’re trying to do.”