Congress must help more foreign-born STEM graduates stay in US

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If companies can’t find qualified candidates to fill their jobs, they may be forced to move positions overseas. Luckily, there is an easy solution to this problem: Congress should pass a bill to allow highly-skilled immigrants studying science, technology, engineering, or math at an American university to stay here and earn green cards after graduation.
 
This simple fix would be a big boost to our economy. Despite the number of unfilled technology jobs in need of qualified applicants, each year the U.S. denies tens of thousands of employment-based visas, and many of those rejected are foreign-born students who have graduated with STEM degrees from American universities. According to the Partnership for a New American Economy, for every one foreign-born STEM graduate who stayed and worked in the United States, an average 2.62 additional jobs were created for native-born Americans. STEM immigrants fill necessary positions (protecting American companies from forced outsourcing), stimulate the economy to create new jobs for native-born Americans, and pay more in taxes to our government than they will ever receive in benefits. So why on Earth are we making it so hard for foreign-born STEM graduates to stay in the U.S.?
 
Because the economic case for reform is so obvious, there’s already wide agreement across the aisle. As opposed to almost any other bill that has come before the 112th Congress, Republicans and Democrats are in agreement on STEM immigration reform and support it across the board. Both President Obama and Governor Romney have endorsed a policy allowing STEM graduates to obtain green cards, and both parties have shown their desire to act by introducing reform bills along these lines this fall — one of which passed in the House just weeks ago. On a political issue as fraught as immigration, where in the last five years Republicans have moved so extremely to the right that they actually introduce bills with titles like the “Prohibiting Back-door Amnesty Act of 2012” and advocate for self-deportation, the fact that they can come to any agreement with Democrats, who have in many ways had to move to occupy the space formerly held by the old Republican Party to find compromise, is a miracle in itself on which we must act.
 
Not only do the parties agree, but they have the support of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the business community, and colleges and universities across the country. The hardest part is already done: we all concur that foreign-born STEM students should be offered the opportunity to stay in the United States, serve in a field desperate for qualified workers, and create more business, innovation, and jobs here in America. Now Congress just needs to make it happen.
 
That means the only thing holding up the passage of STEM reform is fear of retribution by ideological hardliners like Numbers USA, who oppose any and all immigration into the U.S., and allegiance to these out-of-touch advocacy groups is a poor excuse to postpone reform that would be so beneficial for the economy. This is an economic issue, not a Republican or Democratic one. The positions of the two parties are so close together on this that a little compromise on the details can go a long way to making reform happen. After November 6th, the election will be over, and Congress can get back to focusing on governing. They should take advantage of this rare moment of agreement, because failing to do so could mean that the next Google will be created not in the good old U.S. of A. but by one of our global competitors—perhaps even by an American-educated student we forced to go back home and compete with us.
 
Erickson Hatalsky is the director and Trumble, the policy counsel, for Third Way’s Social Policy and Politics Program.
 


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