Dueling Immigration Bills: More Green Cards for Foreign STEM Grads?

On Capitol Hill, the wrangling continues. Many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that we should make more green cards available to foreign students who complete U.S. graduate degrees in STEM fields – science, technology, engineering, and math. Despite broad agreement on the desired result, there is no synoptic view of how to achieve it.

Last week, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) released draft legislation that would provide 55,000 green cards to foreign STEM graduates, giving first priority to doctoral graduates and allocating the remainder to foreign graduates with masters’ degrees. (See Smith Releases Draft STEM Legislation, Press Release, House Committee on the Judiciary, 14.Sep.2012.) The rub? Smith’s proposal takes a robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul approach that is unacceptable to Congressional Democrats, eliminating the Diversity Visa program to free up 55,000 new green cards for STEM grads. (See Parties Lock Horns Over Legislation to Boost High-Skilled Immigration, by Jennifer Martinez, Hillicon Valley blog, The Hill, 16.Sep.2012.)

According to The Hill, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) has released an alternative to the Smith proposal, providing the same number of green cards for STEM graduates, but leaving the Diversity Visa program intact. The Hill reports that Lofgren’s bill, the Attracting the Best and Brightest Act (ABBA), currently has 11 Democratic co-sponsors, and Rep. Lofgren’s website names several Republican members whom she counts as supporters of the measure. (See Rep. Lofgren Introduces Bill to Retain International Talent.) Lofgren’s statement summed up concerns shared by legislators from both parties:

“These men and women are the innovators of tomorrow, and we aren’t the only ones looking to retain their talents. Increasingly, employers from Europe, Australia, Canada, and even China and India, are beating U.S. employers for valuable talent. In 2000, for example, 75 percent of the world’s engineers were hired by U.S. employers – just six years later in 2006, that percentage dropped to 63 percent.”

Lofgren’s remarks would ring just as true for other mature economies that are competing for the world’s best and brightest minds. A case in point: Reuters reports that the Canadian government is creating a new visa category to attract high-tech entrepreneurs. (See UPDATE 1 – Canada to Create Visa to Attract Start-Up Entrepreneurs, by Randall Palmer, Reuters, 12.Sep.2012.) A spokesperson for Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister told Reuters, “Canada seeks young, ambitious, innovative immigrants who will contribute to Canada’s job growth and further drive our economy.” Sound familiar? The point is: we’re not alone in this competition for talent. Let’s hope our Congressional representatives will sense this urgency and resolve their differences, so we can keep more foreign STEM grads here in the United States.

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