Vivek Wadhwa: Fix STEM Immigration15 Feb 2013
Immigration researcher and entrepreneur, Vivek Wadhwa, was among the experts called to testify at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration reform, held on February 5th. His message to Congress was clear: fix STEM immigration now, or face the economic fallout when our knowledge-based economy implodes for lack of one critical input – bright, ambitious scientists and engineers from overseas. [See: Testimony of Vivek Wadhwa, before the House Judiciary Committee, 05.Feb.2013.]
Wadhwa said the United States has stayed at the forefront of innovation by importing the best and brightest minds, increasing the skilled labor force to enable rapid technological progress and expansion. According to Wadhwa, foreign-born workers and entrepreneurs have played an essential role in America’s innovation economy, contributing to the “exponential growth” in computer hardware and related technologies, advances in high-tech manufacturing, the emergence of digital medicine and genomics, and progress in a host of other fields.
What we need to get a grip on – and fast – is an outmoded visa system that Wadhwa said is “chasing away this talent.” The relative scarcity of H1B visas, for instance, makes it hard for foreign students to stay here after graduation, and the long wait for a green card is a stumbling block for H1B holders who want to start businesses here, Wadhwa told Congress. These policies also take a toll on the families of would-be immigrants, who he said are “held hostage to the visa-holder’s immigration status,” unable to work, and in some states, to drive a car or open a bank account. As a result, Wadhwa cautioned, “many are getting frustrated and returning home.”
Wadhwa proposed a seven-step plan to “stop this brain drain” and “bring more engineers and scientists here.” Specifically, he recommended that Congress:
- “Increase the number of green cards available to H1B holders.
- Allow spouses of H1B visa holders to work.
- Target immigration based on required skills.
- Allow H1B holders to change jobs without requiring sponsorship renewal.
- Extend the term of OPT for foreign students from one to four years.
- Institute the Startup Visa.
- Remove the country caps on green-card applications.”
In other words, if America is to remain a destination of choice for the world’s innovators and entrepreneurs, our immigration system needs to welcome them with open arms – not leave them in limbo or (worse yet) send them packing. Foreign STEM workers can only make a lasting contribution to our economy if they can stay here legally and strike roots. Wadhwa’s point is well taken: we need to fix STEM immigration now, because we really can’t afford not to.
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