U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, recently outlined a proposal to increase immigration for high-tech jobs during a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Many students who come to the U.S. on nonimmigrant student visas and earn advanced high-tech degrees, he said, must then return to their home countries because of a lack of employment-related visas. Both parties in Washington tend to agree on a need to increase the number of visas for jobs in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Where the parties tend to disagree is on the best way to accomplish this.
Business Support for STEM Visas
According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, millions of jobs remain unfilled because there are not enough skilled and qualified U.S. workers, despite high unemployment. Businesses need to be able to recruit talent for STEM positions worldwide, as well as from the large population of foreign students attending American universities. As many as 160,000 Chinese nationals are currently enrolled in U.S. schools, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, most of whom will return home when their studies conclude. The Chamber and other organizations maintain that filling open high-tech positions is a more immediate need than addressing the nation’s undocumented immigrant population, though these groups still acknowledge the importance of finding some path to legal status and employment for those individuals.
Loss of High-Tech Workers for Lack of Visas
Federal immigration law currently sets an annual cap on the number of work visas. This can result in long delays for employers who want to hire highly-skilled workers. The workers must wait, often outside the U.S., for visa approval, and they might accept employment elsewhere while waiting. Immigrant students come to the U.S. for school and, after developing a variety of STEM skills and often wanting to stay in the country they have called home for years, are forced to leave before the expiration of their student visas with no opportunity to convert to a work visa.
Legislative Attempts to Create STEM Visas
Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced and passed the STEM Jobs Act in November 2012, but the bill did not pass in the Senate. The bill would have created a program to give 55,000 green cards each year to foreign students who graduate from U.S. universities with master’s or Ph.D. degrees in STEM fields. Democratic senators blocked the bill, in large part because, in order to allocate 55,000 immigrant visas without increasing the overall number of immigrants, it would have eliminated the diversity visa program entirely.
In our role as business immigration attorneys, we support the goal of increasing the number of highly-skilled immigrants, particularly in STEM fields, who may come here to work for American businesses. Immigration policy designed to meet the specific needs of the business community is critically important, but it is not the only consideration. Family-based immigration, humanitarian immigration, and immigration to the United States in the hopes of starting a better life (call it the “American dream”) are also crucial, and should be part of any broad immigration reform package.
More Blog Posts:
The Government’s War on H-1Bs, ImmigRantings, October 11, 2012
Obama Signs Immigration Executive Order, ImmigRantings, June 15, 2012
Problems with the H-1B visa: From Work Horse to Show Pony, ImmigRantings, February 13, 2012
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