Immigration reform continues to be a topic of interest in Congress. Last week, the House Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee held a hearing on “Enhancing American Competitiveness through Skilled Immigration.” The focus of the hearing was foreign born workers with skills in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM).

Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) voiced his support for immigration reform for skilled workers. “In this new Congress, we can rechart our nation’s course anew. We should look at all aspects of high-skilled immigration policy. We can look for ways to improve our temporary visa programs for skilled workers - such as H-1B and L visas. We can look for ways to improve our temporary visa program for entrepreneurs - the E-2 program. We can look for ways to offer green cards to aspiring entrepreneurs that don’t demand that they themselves be rich but that instead rely on the judgment of the venture capitalists who have funded them. We can look for ways to reduce the backlogs for second and third preference employment-based green cards. And we can seek to help the United States retain more of the foreign students who graduate from our universities.”

Echoing President Barack Obama’s call to “staple green cards to advanced STEM diplomas,” Bruce Morrison testified on behalf of IEEE-USA in favor of reforming the current immigration system to increase the number green cards available to foreign-born STEM graduates from U.S. institutions.

Citing the deficit of skilled American workers in the STEM industries and the strength of foreign-born workers in these fields, Benjamin Johnson, director of the American Immigration Council, provided insights on the positive economic impact and enhanced American competitiveness that increasing skilled immigration can bring. “A 2012 report found that each foreign-born graduate from a U.S. university with an advanced degree who remains in the U.S. to work in a STEM occupation creates an average of 2.62 jobs for American workers,” said Johnson, referring to a study by the Information Technology Industry Council, the Partnership for a New American Economy, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The proposed reform would eliminate backlogs that leave some foreign-born STEM graduates waiting more than a decade for green cards, prompting Johnson to label America’s failure to reform its immigration system as “national suicide.”

Dean Garfield, president and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council testified that “it’s time we upgraded our skilled immigration system to serve our national interest, and anticipate and meet the demands of the U.S. economy - now and in the future.”

In 2012, the House of Representatives passed legislation that would have made it easier for STEM graduates to stay in the United States after graduate school. The bill would have taken 55,000 visas currently awarded lottery-style by the diversity immigrant program and redirected them to foreign graduates who have earned advanced science degrees at U.S. universities, thereby eliminating the diversity program. Preference would have been given to those holding a doctoral degree in STEM fields, and remaining visas would have gone to Master’s degree-holders. The bill died at the close of the second session of the 112th Congress.


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