Smart foreign grads help make Wisconsin great

RAVI KALLA GOT HIS master’s degrees in engineering from UWMadison and founded Symphony Corp., a health information company that employs a couple of hundred people in Madison.

He’s from India.

Connie Li moved to Wisconsin when her husband got a job at UW-Madison. She cofounded TrafficCast International in Madison, a rapidly growing business providing traffic data to wireless devices.

She’s from China.

Ankit Agarwal, co-founder and CEO of Imbed Biosciences, developed the Fitchburg company’s promising wound-healing technology while doing post-doctoral research at UW-Madison.

He’s from India.

Thomas “Rock” Mackie, an emeritus UW-Madison professor, is best known for co-founding TomoTherapy, which makes cancer treatment machines in Madison and employs nearly 300.

He grew up in Canada.

Smart foreigners who come to our universities and stay here don’t take away Wisconsin jobs. In many cases, they create the jobs of the future and expand our economy.

That’s important to remember following President Donald Trump’s recent visit to Kenosha, where he signed an order targeting visas for highly skilled workers from overseas.

Trump has a point that some companies have abused the federal visa program by hiring foreign workers into jobs that Americans with similar skills could fill. Perhaps the president’s review of the H-1B visa program can prevent some abuse.

But more generally and significantly, America needs as many young and talented people as it can find. That’s especially true in Wisconsin, where our population is aging fast without enough young workers to replace retirees and further expand the workforce.

Immigration is part of the solution, not the problem. So limiting legitimate H-1B visas — which Wisconsin universities rely on to keep talented people - would be a big mistake.

“Especially the graduate students at the UW-Madison — if they can stay, they would like to stay,” said Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. “Especially now, when Wisconsin really has a demographic crisis of sorts, it’s going to be tough to fill all of the available jobs moving ahead, from the high end to the low end. It’s no longer about a skills gap. It’s about a body gap.”

Wisconsin’s growing technology sector relies heavily on an international workforce, with many foreign-born scholars launching startup companies. In all likelihood, Symphony, TrafficCast, Imbed, TomoTherapy and many other companies would not exist in Wisconsin if their founders had not come to the United States for higher education and stayed to contribute.

If that kind of brain power is turned away, those people will create businesses and jobs elsewhere. Wisconsin’s congressional delegation — especially Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, who has been strong on the issue in the past — must ensure that doesn’t happen. — Wisconsin State Journal, April 21

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