This country needs immigrants, and if we don’t fix our laws on this issue soon, we are going to get left behind. I see it happening in my field of scientific research, and this is just one of the important ways that overly restrictive immigration laws are costing us all. 

We can’t afford to wait to pass laws to attract more immigrants, including more scientists, to this country. We can’t afford to lose immigrants who are already here, including those who came to our country as children. We can’t afford to lose immigrants who work as farmworkers and other essential professions. It would benefit all of us for Congress to provide them with a path to legal status. 

The impact of our failure on this issue is relevant to our national scientific standing, and it can be seen here in our state at a place like Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, where we need to be able to recruit truly transformative scientists from around the world. 

When I received my doctorate in 1992, the United States was the unquestioned global science leader, and there were two events that put us there. 

First, science was instrumental in supporting our allies and winning World War II.  That recognition set this country on a path where investment in science was considered critically important. Second, 25 years later, we landed on the moon. That cemented this country as a visionary leader in science and technology. 

Neither of those triumphs would have happened without the immigrant scientists who were born elsewhere and chose to bring their brilliance, talent and experience to America. 

We continue to depend on foreign-born scientists today. For example, Bigelow Laboratory’s research relies on experts in computer science, physical sciences and the life sciences. Up to 54 percent of the U.S. doctorates given in these fields go to scientists born outside the U.S.   

Since 2000, about 40 percent of the Nobel Prizes won by U.S. scientists were awarded to immigrants. This country has benefited immensely from having the pick of the best and the brightest from around the world, because this is where they wanted to be. 

Some will argue that these science jobs should go to Americans, but there is a critical problem with that reasoning. Even if we could produce enough qualified, natural-born Americans to fill the science positions, they would not bring the diversity of experiences and different frames of reference that people from outside our country, and our culture, bring. 

To solve problems as complex as the global ocean issues we’re working on at Bigelow Laboratory, we need their perspectives. This is diversity not as a moral issue, but as a strategic imperative. 

For a recent example of the value of bringing foreign scientists into a country, look at China. Twenty years ago, they were a relatively minor player in science and technology. Today, China publishes more peer-reviewed science papers than any other country in the world, a distinction previously held by the U.S. Part of the reason for China’s stunning progress is that they have aggressively recruited top international scientists. 

China opened its arms at the very time the U.S. began making it harder for foreign students and scientists to come or stay here. For many people in foreign countries, the dream is no longer to go to college in the United States. If that doesn’t scare you, you aren’t paying attention to the role that being the world science leader has played in our country’s standing and prosperity. 

Climate change, foreign competition, cyber security, national defense – restrictive immigration will impact our nation’s ability to compete and respond to all these great challenges we face in the coming decades. 

To keep our global competitiveness, our country must open its arms to the students, scientists, and engineers of the world again, and quickly. Congress cannot delay any longer. It must offer a path to work permits and permanent residency for immigrants who are already here as an essential first step to modernize the U.S. immigration system to better serve science – and our country.   


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