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Immigrant advocates El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos Albuquerque N.M. y prepare for rally immigratireform Old Town Albuquerque May 1.

Immigrant advocates at El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos in Albuquerque, N.M. y prepare for a rally on immigration reform in Old Town Albuquerque on May 1. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)

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Updated: June 26, 2013 6:11AM

If Illinois is to maintain its leadership position in today’s global economy, then we, as educators and business leaders, need to increase our talent pipeline, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). One of the most direct ways to do so is to reform our country’s immigration policy — and remove the barriers that are stifling innovation and limiting opportunity.

Consider the following:

◆ Over the course of the next five years, Illinois’ economy is projected to need nearly 320,000 STEM jobs, up from 266,000 in 2008.

◆ Each year in Illinois, more than 40 percent of students graduating with a master’s or doctoral degree in STEM subjects are temporary immigrant residents.

◆ In 2011, nearly 2,700 high-level specialists in areas such as computer programming, data analysis, engineering and biomedicine — talented men and women who received their degrees from a college or university in Illinois — were unable to obtain work visas after graduating.

Illinois cannot afford to lose this expertise — and we must do more to eliminate outdated policies that prevent our state from benefitting from the scientific and technological expertise they bring to our universities, businesses and communities.

Immigrants continue to be a major factor in keeping our nation and our state competitive. Between 2006 and 2012, about one of every four of the technology and engineering companies created in the U.S. had at least one immigrant founder. In Illinois, more than 30 percent of high-tech businesses were created by immigrants. Immigrants play a vital role in sustaining critical industry sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing and hospitality, both as employees and small-business owners.

Immigration reform is needed — not only to provide STEM-focused companies with the highly skilled talent they need, but also to encourage entrepreneurs, especially in tech startups, to create jobs here in our communities. That is why we our group, the Illinois Science & Technology Coalition, has joined together with the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition, a diverse group of businesses and educational institutions, to support the bipartisan legislative efforts now under way in Congress. The proposed changes would go a long way toward strengthening our state’s economy, provide opportunities for talented men and women who want to work and live in Illinois, and remove unnecessary barriers to those who want to remain in the state to work after they graduate from our colleges and universities.

The time has come for immigration reform. And it is time to open the door of opportunity wider and to welcome those who want to help Illinois maintain its leadership position in STEM. You can join us by adding your voice to the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition at this link:

John L. Anderson is president of the Illinois Institute of Technology and chairman of ISTC, a non-profit organization that cultivates and attracts research and technology-based investment, talent and job growth in the state.

Mark Harris is president & CEO of ISTC.

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