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President Obama, The Hon. Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, and Mr. Enrique Peña-Nieto, President of Mexico, attended the North American Leaders Summit in Toluca, Mexico on February 19th and 20th, 2014. The three North American leaders discussed the effects of 20 years of NAFTA. They seeked to increase trade and promote sustainable growth in the region, and, more importantly, made new decisions regarding education.

One of the most important agreements reached included a bilateral student exchange program between the US and Mexico that will result in 100,000 Mexican students enrolled in universities around the United States within the next five years. In fact, one of the goals of this agreement is for Mexico to become the second or third source of foreign college students in the United States, after China and India.

“I’m very also very pleased that we’ve agreed to keep expanding educational partnerships, as Enrique mentioned, so our young people develop the skills they need to succeed in the global economy”, said President Obama this morning, in reference to his initiative “100,000 Strong in the Americas.”, launched back in 2011.

The goal of "100,000 in the Americas" is to foster region-wide prosperity through greater international excange of students. ".

Student exchange agreements with other countries in 2013, brought 820,000 international students to the United States in 2013 (the largest number of foreign students ever), and boosted the U.S economy with over $24 billion. At the same time, thousands of American students went to study abroad, bringing with them fresh information and a new global approach to business in the United States.

International student exchange agreements demonstrate more than ever the urgent need for immigration reform. Otherwise, the United States will be in danger of losing its competitive advantage due to its present restrictive immigrations laws.

A few days ago, in a televised interview with Aljazeera America, Professor Vivek Wadha of Stanford Law School and author of the book “The Immigrant Exodus”, explained : “The United States is losing competitiveness because of its foreign policy. Everyone used to come here. Now they can go anywhere… The more they close down, the more innovation will happen elsewhere. That is the problem with this delay”, said Professor Wadha referring to the present situation with immigration reform.

And he is right.

Foreign students in the United States presently apply what they learned, not in this country to the benefit of the US economy, but abroad, thanks to archaic immigration regulations.

The excuse that every candidate from a developing nation who applies for a work visa in the United States is trying to take advantage is simply ludicrous. This is where the progressive plan presented by Michigan’s Gov. Rick Snyder to increase the number of professional visas for his state sounds like a very sound idea.

Out of the record number of foreign students who attended colleges in the United States in 2013, 14,000 came from Mexico, 45,000 from Saudi Arabia, 97,000 from India, 11,000 from Turkey, and 236,000 from China. These and many other countries still send their best students here to attend American universities. But instead of enriching our local pool of urgently needed professionals, once they graduate, these students apply their hard-earned knowledge back in their own countries thanks to our legal constraints which do not allow companies to hire them here in the United States.

Wouldn’t it be in our best interest to retain this talent for the benefit of our economy?

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