On Wednesday at Radford University, business and local leaders had a roundtable discussion about exceptionally gifted foreigh students and how they impact the local economy.
Educators say some of the nearly 1 million foreign born Virginia residents are seeking out advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and math, STEM for short. It's that expertise that local leaders want to keep. Radford Mayor and course instructor Bruce Brown said STEM graduates will always be welcome,"Those STEM grads whether it not be in their specialty or their field, are going to have jobs in the New River Valley to raise familys, worship, stay around."
The six-person panel focused on ways to keep foreign STEM graduates in state. Why? Because once foreign nationals get their diplomas, the immigration clock starts ticking. Within three years of graduating, by law, they must find an employer who will vouch for them.
Donald Jones is a businessman and a student, "[STEM graduates] have to find an employer who will sponsor them, they have to find an employer to agree to do all the paperwork at their expense, they have to maintain a job while they're trying to do this."
If they're unsuccessful, Jones said, STEM grads are sometimes deported within 30 days. All that brain power, educated in America, goes out of the country.
Local business leaders agree -- there aren't enough high-tech companies around the New River Valley to employ more STEM grads.
Students listened as the panel made its best case for changing immigration laws to keep more STEM graduates. In an ugly economy, do some students see STEM graduates as foreign born, future competition, or is there room at the table for everyone? Erin Markham is a rising junior at RU, "Definitely that really bothers me cause if I want to get out there and start my own business, I definitely will need someone else's help and I definitely want my needs, the STEM program people to come in help me start my own business and get it running and everything."
Officials say nearly one third of all STEM graduates in Virginia, come from Radford University and Virginia Tech.