By Brendan Sasso - 10/05/11 08:27 PM EDT
"It takes an average of over seven years in graduate school for STEM students to receive a doctorate," he said. "A master's can be earned in two years."
Barmak Nassirian, the associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, warned that some universities might try to exploit the system by granting degrees to foreigners who just want to earn residency and are not actually interested in working in science and math fields.
Lofgren argued that her bill would address this concern.
"The concern is absolutely correct," Lofgren said. "You don't want some Internet U. That's not what we have in mind. What we have in mind is MIT and Stanford."
Her bill would apply only to about 200 research universities chosen by the National Science Foundation.
Chairman Smith suggested a variety of restrictions to prevent abuse, including only covering universities that have existed for 10 or 20 years and only granting residency to those who already have a job offer.
Defining which fields qualify as STEM also poses a problem for Congress.
Although the lawmakers agreed that engineers and computer programers should qualify, it is less clear whether certain social scientists would be covered by the program.
"I don’t know how many more cosmologists we need," Nassirian said.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said if more green cards are issued for STEM graduates, other immigration categories should be reduced.