Massachusetts Governor Plans to Retain More Foreign STEM Grads

Last June, the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill that, among other things, would help more foreign STEM graduates to stay here, after they finish their studies at U.S. universities. That is: it would, if both houses could agree on it. Unfortunately, with the one-year anniversary rapidly approaching, the House of Representatives shows no sign of taking up the Senate CIR measure, or any other immigration reform legislation.

Out of sheer frustration with the lack of Congressional action, several state legislatures have passed their own immigration laws, most of them attempting to deal with border security and illegal immigration, with mixed results, at best. Massachusetts is taking a different tack. Instead of immigrant-bashing measures, Governor Deval Patrick has announced an ingenious scheme to make his state more welcoming to immigrants – specifically, to keep more foreign STEM graduates in his state, after they finish their degrees, under a new Global Entrepreneur in Residence (GER) program, which he described as follows:

“The program will allow qualified, highly skilled, international students currently in Massachusetts to stay here after graduation if they are starting or growing a business. Administered by the Mass Tech Collaborative, the program will place selected students – who are eligible for H1B visas but unable to get them due to a federal cap – as ‘entrepreneurs in residence’ at public and private institutions and will ensure that they continue to contribute to the Massachusetts economy.” [See Governor Patrick Announces Economic Development Package to Promote Growth and Opportunity Across the Commonwealth, Press Release, Office of Governor Deval Patrick, 10.Apr.2014.]

According to a recent article in CNN Money, the GER program would allow foreign graduates of Massachusetts universities to sidestep the H1B cap, by providing university-based employment to program participants. Why? Because, “institutions of higher learning are exempt from the H1B visa cap and can apply for visas for their employees at any point throughout the year,” not just during the cap-season rush period. [See Massachusetts’ Clever Immigration Reform Workaround, by Claire Zillman, CNN Money, 14.Apr.2014.]

Though Governor Patrick’s proposal did not indicate how many slots will be available for the GER program, demand is likely to be high. As Greg Bialecki, the state’s Secretary of Housing and Economic Development, told CNN Money, Massachusetts institutions currently host about 46,000 foreign college students.

It speaks volumes about official Washington, that states feel compelled to take immigration policy into their own hands. We applaud Governor Patrick for the initiative and creativity his administration has shown in seeking a path around the Congressional logjam that CIR has become. We can only hope that Congress will conclude – as Governor Patrick clearly has – that it makes no sense to train the world’s best and brightest, only to send them home.

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