U.S. corporations have complained for years that they can’t find enough qualified workers who are skilled in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — the so-called STEM fields.
Changing immigration law could solve the problem. Congress is considering legislation that would allow high-skilled foreign workers and students to work in the United States instead of taking their skills back to their homelands.
In August 2012, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and publishing magnate Rupert Murdoch made public appearances together, calling for reforms and urging presidential candidates to make immigration policy part of the election debate.
Bloomberg said immigrants "help our economy grow, put Americans back to work and make sure industries of the future are created here."
Murdoch echoed Bloomberg's comments, saying the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country should be given a path to legal residency.
"Give them, provided they learn English, a path to citizenship," Murdoch said. "They'll pay taxes, they are hardworking people, and why (Republican presidential candidate) Mitt Romney doesn't do it, I have no idea, because they're natural Republicans."
Before the election campaign heated up, there was support from both parties on Capitol Hill for giving green cards and permanent residency to foreign-born students with graduate degrees in the STEM fields. An October hearing by the House Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement considered proposals in HR 2161, the Immigration Driving Entrepreneurship in America (IDEA) Act of 2011.
An important provision in the act calls for the exemption of immigrants with advanced STEM degrees from the numerical limits set for employment-based green cards. In other words, the government would provide more green cards for foreign engineers and scientists to help satisfy the needs of business and revive the U.S. economy.
The idea has the support of hundreds of corporate leaders, among them those with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which calls the bill “one of the most significant areas where Congress can legislate to stimulate job creation.” The chamber says Congress should act “to prevent an exodus of foreign graduates of U.S. universities with advanced science degrees.”
Census statistics show that immigrants account for about half the scientists and engineers in the United States with doctorate degrees. U.S. education has not turned out graduates at any level who are proficient in STEM fields.
For example, science and engineering degrees account for about 33% of all bachelor’s degrees since 2000. In other countries, the percentages are much higher: Japan (63%), China (53%) and Singapore (51%). Asian countries are turning out engineers at a rate four times higher than the United States.
Here are some of the recommendations business leaders and advocates for policy changes made to Congress:
- Exempt master’s or higher graduates with STEM degrees from U.S. institutions from the H-1B quota.
- Create a visa category , allowing both non-immigrant and immigrant status, for entrepreneurs who have completed advanced degrees from U.S. institutions in STEM fields. Expand the EB-5 visa program for foreign entrepreneurs.
- Improve guest worker programs to help U.S. industry find seasonal workers.
- Eliminate arbitrary restrictions like the country-by-country caps on visa allotments.
- Create an employment-based first preference immigration category for graduates of U.S. institutions who have advanced degrees in STEM fields.
- Protect the marketplace be ensuring advanced graduates who are not entrepreneurs are only entitled to cap exemptions when they have a job offer.
- Exclude spouses and dependent children from employment-based green card quotas to raise the percentage of workers allowed to stay in the country.
- Raise the H-1B cap by including a market escalator, so that the cap moves based on actual use.
The Partnership for a New American Economy, a bipartisan group of 340 mayors and CEOs from a cross the country, says that giving skilled foreigners jobs in the United States helps to open up foreign markets.
According to the Partnership, a 1% increase in immigrants working in advanced positions leads to a 3% increase in U.S. exports to their home countries. Bloomberg, the Partnership’s co-chair, says it is “national suicide” that the government allows so many skilled immigrants to get away.
The United States leads the world in attracting top foreign students. About 22% of students who want to study outside their country decide to come here. Eleanor Pelta, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, says current law creates “a lose-lose situation” for the immigrant and the country.
“Right now, it is too hard for foreign graduates of U.S. colleges and universities to get the visas they need to stay here and put their education to use at American companies,” Pelta said. She calls U.S. policies “stale” and “short-sighted.”