Governor Patrick launches program to extend student visas

In order to allow foreign students with distinct skills and talents to remain in the country after their college visas expire, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick proposed a Global Entrepreneur in Residence Program Thursday to encourage students to build and grow businesses in the United States.

The current H-1B visa allows employers to temporarily hire international employees for specialized areas of work. Patrick’s proposed change to H-1B is possible due to a gap in the federal immigration law, Patrick announced in his bill, titled “An Act to Promote Growth and Opportunity.”

“I am convinced we can reach more of our residents and accelerate our job and wealth creation, indeed we can position ourselves to sustain our growth for many more years,” Patrick said in a Thursday press release. “That’s why I am filing this Growth Sustainability Bill, to expand opportunity more broadly into communities we have not yet reached, and to accelerate the growth of our innovation sectors.”

While the visa currently limits the number of students who are allowed to stay in the United States post-graduation, Patrick is proposing to expand the limit, giving post-graduate students the opportunity to build companies, create jobs and contribute to the state economy, the release stated.

“This legislation is the next step to ensure long-term economic prosperity for the Commonwealth,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Greg Bialecki in the release. “With these initiatives, we will extend economic opportunity to every resident of the Commonwealth and continue to accelerate our thriving innovation economy.”

Vinit Nijhawan, managing director of Boston University’s Office of Technology Development, said this alteration to the H-1B visa addresses issues that have not yet been resolved by the federal government.

“There is a bipartisan agreement that the U.S. should provide work visas to foreign-born STEM graduates from U.S. universities who are instrumental in founding a startup, usually based on the research they were involved in at the university,” he said in a Monday email. “This will have a meaningful impact on Boston University and other Massachusetts research universities as we have many foreign born graduate students who are working on projects that could be commercialized.”

Tracey Dodenhoff, director of the Northeastern Center for Research Innovation, said students should have the ability to stay in the state to continue work on research and projects could make a positive difference in the Commonwealth.

“With the innovations, new technology and research coming out of universities and research laboratories, giving students the opportunity to continue their hard work absolutely benefits everyone,” she said. “From the political side of it, if all ducks can be lined up and this can actually be done, I believe people will see the impact quickly.”

Several residents said they support the governor’s decision, and the program will be beneficial to the Commonwealth and those who live and study here.

Isabel Porto, 21, an international student living in Back Bay, said an opportunity, such as the one that Patrick is offering, could impact these students’ lives greatly.

“It would be life changing, especially for people who can’t go home, like me. I’m from Venezuela,” she said. “But I’d like to know how they determine who is capable of staying. It seems like it is not only about wanting to succeed, but actually succeeding.”

Laura Barkema, 24, from Jamaica Plain, said international students deserve a chance to prove themselves and create change in the state where they attend school.

“It is a good idea to give students a chance [to stay] instead of being forced to leave,” she said. “If they have the skill and intellectual capability, international students should be allowed to stay.”

Laura Cuellar, 25, an international student living in Fenway, said given the high prices of college tuition, international students should be able to go further with their careers without being forced to leave the country.

“International students pay a lot of money to attend school in this country,” she said. “If they are qualified enough to stay, this would be the perfect way to give these students [the opportunity] to hopefully make back all the money spent attending school here. They got the education, and now they can gain the money and the experience.”

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  1. We have been delighted to see this initiative from Gov. Patrick and Secretary Bialecki. There is a lot that can be done to increase the future competitiveness of the US. In a world where brainpower and innovation will drive growth, we need to make sure we remain a magnet for world talent. Certainly our immigration policies should be adapted to this need.
    A few experienced entrepreneurs from the Boston area have launched a non-profit organization whose mission is to channel foreign graduates from our universities to early stage start-ups, using the Optional Practical Training (OPT) internships. We thus provide an opportunity for graduates to gain work experience, develop people networks, and support start-ups in desperate need for talent. At the same time, we expect to instill a global mindset in the American start-ups to increase their chances for global reach.
    It would be wonderful to have the opportunity to describe to you more about our plans.

    Sincerely,

    Gustavo Bottan
    Executive Director
    OPT4America.org

    bottan@OPT4America.org
    mobile: 339-227-0354

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