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Friday, March 7, 2014

House Hearing on Foreign STEM Graduates

On October 5, 2011, the House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement held a hearing  to discuss whether the U.S. should reform its immigration policies to retain more foreign graduates of American universities’ advanced degree programs in the “STEM” fields of science, technology, engineering and math.    

Inside Higher Ed’s article, “Reverse Brain Drain,” provides coverage of the hearing:  
...foreign students are dramatically outpacing their American counterparts in the STEM fields.  In 2009, half to two-thirds of all Ph.D.s in related fields and almost half of all engineering and computer science master’s degrees awarded by American colleges were earned by foreign students...
Because only 140,000 total employment-based immigrant visas are available each year, with only 7% of that number available to each country, the United States is not absorbing these foreign graduates into its workforce.  Backlogs have grown to the point that some green card seekers could spend a lifetime waiting for permanent residency.  According to the article:

...a skilled Indian immigrant seeking a green card in the United States could wait up to 70 years to actually receive one.  Indian and Chinese immigrants are far likelier than are their peers from other countries to earn advanced degrees in STEM fields in the United States.  This disparity makes it incredibly difficult for students from those countries to stay in the United States to live and work.  Instead, Lofgren said, they are forced back to their home countries where they end up competing with American companies.

At the hearing, B. Lindsay Lowell, B. Lindsay Lowell, Director of Policy Studies at the Institute for the Study of International Migration, drew several conclusions from the data on foreign graduates in STEM fields.  Below is an excerpt from his testimony:

First, changes should be careful not to artificially induce significantly increased admissions of foreign S&E workers. America‟s competitive advantage is best served by spurring domestic demand. It is not a good idea to create new visas or expanded caps, escalating caps, or cap exemptions. Nor is it a good idea to award automatic greencards which has the additional downside of creating the wrong incentives to, for example, pursue specialized education in the United States. Neither does it make sense to expand temporary programs, particularly those with long stays and no screening for intent to stay, without a corresponding capacity to permit adjustments to permanent status.
Second, uniquely innovative people are not common and policy should be selective; it should use incentives to admit immigrants who are the best and the brightest. Getting this formulation right is a difficult quest as we know so little about what works. Comparisons to systems in other countries are problematic not only because other countries are not first in skilled migrants preference queue as we are, but also because evidence does not support casual assumptions that point systems say work better than our system. A different system would keep employers in the driver‟s seat but provide different mechanisms for admitting migrants. For example, the Jordan Commission and, more recently, economists have weighed in favor of market-oriented admissions. One idea is to try truly temporary 2-3 year visas that are awarded in quarterly and spot auction markets on a pilot basis. Entrepreneur visas, that require benchmark investments for new graduates or temporary visaholders, are another good idea. And, given the evidence, we might want to target those with a track record than casting a wide, loose net for young graduates who might, someday, become successful entrepreneurs.
Third, policy should be as fair as possible. Today‟s system has put many good candidates in an admission backlog, while frustrating employers‟ need for timely resolution of workers‟ employment status. There is a sizeable backlog of greencard applicants for employment based visas. We and their employers have invested in these workers‟ skills and they desire to remain and work in the United States. Clearing that backlog, allocating unused employment visas from past years or by some other means, makes sense. There are many ideas on how to improve policy, in which the Committee is well versed, and my purpose here is not to detail specific recommendations but rather to present evidence for making informed decisions and a few principles to frame those decisions.


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