As we approach the end of 2009, the buzz is growing in Washington, DC, about a coming debate on immigration reform. Meanwhile, President Obama recently signaled again his understanding of the importance of international education and the importance of U.S. openness to talent and students from other countries. At the closing of his jobs summit in Washington, DC, earlier this month, he said:

Our strength has always been saying yes to the rest of the world, inviting ideas and different cultures and commerce. And we have not seen the same kinds of openness, I think, over the last several years that I'd like to see. Now, we've got to do it in a prudent way, but let's just take the example of foreign students. One of the great things about this country is we get the best and the brightest talent to study here, and once they study here they start enjoying the intellectual freedom and the entrepreneurship, and they decide to stay, and they start new businesses. And suddenly you've got a whole new generation of folks who are creating Intel or other extraordinary businesses. If those students start seeing a closed door, then we are losing what is one of our greatest competitive advantages, and that's something that I think we're committed to doing.

This is why it is so important for international educators to note and take action on the release today of NAFSA's latest paper, Visa and Immigration Policy for the Brain-Circulation Era. It puts forth a bold plan for addressing U.S. immigration and visa policies that reflects years of challenges and frustrations faced by NAFSA members and the international students and scholars we serve and highlights our collective concern that without a policy of openness and welcome to those students, the United States will be hampered both economically and in terms of its foreign policy. It is time for a frank but realistic discussion of the issues that we have faced since 9/11 that have resulted in an America that continues to appear less than welcoming and that doesn't always reflect the values of openness and tolerance that our higher education institutions seek to instill in our students every day.

At the University of Arkansas, we are reminded every day as we pass by the Fulbright Peace Fountain and statue of the late Senator J. William Fulbright that our greatest hope for security is to bring people together, not keep them apart. Sen. Fulbright's words ring exactly true today:

Educational exchange is not merely one of those nice but marginal activities in which we engage in international affairs, but rather, from the standpoint of future world peace and order, probably the most important and potentially rewarding of our foreign policy activities.

I believe that the recommendations NAFSA has put forward offer credible and politically sound solutions that will enhance our ability to do essential work in support of international educational exchange. Such reforms must be made if we truly are to embrace policies that promote a better world.

I hope that NAFSA members will rally behind this paper by sharing it widely and by engaging in this important conversation with decision-makers both on your campus and in Washington, DC. Be sure to join NAFSA's Advocacy Centered Team (ACT) to stay informed of opportunities in the new year to engage in advocacy on this vital issue.

DeDe LongDeDe Long is NAFSA's vice president for public policy and practice and chair of the Public Policy Committee of NAFSA's Board of Directors. She is the director of study abroad and international exchange at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville.