STEM is short for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and in this case refers to the thousands of highly-skilled and American-educated immigrants currently forbidden from remaining in our country to work and grow our economy. The knowledge economy is globally competitive but because of antiquated laws, America is shutting the door on its best and brightest foreign-born job creators.
Vivek Wadhwa, vice president of Innovation and Research at Singularity University, and an expert on the broken STEM system, recently highlighted an all too common example: A husband and wife who met as graduate students in the U.S. and launched a startup business producing game applications for Facebook. In their quest to seek permanent residency, the couple was legally obligated to return to their native India to await approval of their application. Despite launching two successful American businesses, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service denied their application. The couple, their jobs, their employees, tax revenue, and purchasing power now reside in India, competing directly with American firms.
In the global race for talent, broken U.S. immigration laws are not only counterproductive they are, in fact, stifling economic growth and job creation by denying many foreigners the ability to secure one of the limited numbers of H1-B visa to fill high-tech positions available or the proper visa necessary to launch and sustain successful start-ups. Fortunately, we are close to consensus as lawmakers in both parties are expressing a desire to fix the broken system. If we can achieve that breakthrough, it will have significant consequences, not only for the thousands of affected immigrants and our economy, but for the politics of immigration as well.
The politics of immigration have become so polarized that Republicans and Democrats have been at loggerheads for more than a decade. Reaching a bipartisan agreement on STEM immigration will be an important first step that can be built upon as the basis for future successful comprehensive immigration reform negotiations.
The stakes for reform are high and the last decade of inaction is beginning to rear its ugly head. A recent Kauffman Foundation study found that for the first time in decades, the number of high-tech, immigrant-founded start-ups has stalled and is on the verge of decline. For America to enjoy continued prosperity in STEM fields, we need tech hubs like Silicon Valley and Austin, Texas to grow — not shrink.
Congress can act now. The Internet Association urges lawmakers to work expeditiously to do so. Because as The New America moves forward, our demographic picture will only become more in focus alongside our blurry economic outlook. STEM immigration reform is an opportunity that must be seized and then cultivated to ensure economic prosperity and increased stability for years to come. It is time to rewrite the stifling old law and put America on a more prosperous track: Congress, pass STEM immigration reform now.
Beckerman is president and CEO of The Internet Association.