Congress Must Allow More STEM Visas Today

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Editor’s note: Michael Beckerman is President and CEO of The Internet Association, a new policy lobby representing Google, Amazon, and Facebook, among many web-based technology companies. This piece, in support of the STEM Jobs Act currently being considered by Congress, is their first public policy statement.

Highly skilled and talented people are a powerful source of new innovation and job creation, and Internet companies across America know first- hand that immigrants create jobs, build companies, invent new products and services and push the U.S. economy forward in a critically important way.

Even after graduating from top U.S. institutions with degrees in science, math, or technology, too many skilled foreign graduates do not have the opportunity to make significant contributions to the U.S. market. Unable to remain in the United States to work, they are forced to leave the U.S. and transfer their skills and knowledge base to a foreign market. As the United States loses this talent we risk losing in the global marketplace as these graduates move on to work for our competitors.

One major obstacle preventing many of these talented individuals from entering into the American workforce is their inability to secure H1-B work visas. These three- to six-year work visas are reserved for specialty occupations (requiring a Bachelor’s degree or higher) where no qualified U.S. worker is available to fill. For those seeking an employment start date in fiscal year 2013, which begins October 1, 2012, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reached its 65,000 cap on H1-B visas this past June, less than three months after it opened.

At the behest of individuals, universities, advocacy groups, and major tech companies, Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are working to address the shortage of visas for qualified high-skilled workers in technical fields essential to innovation and economic growth. In the past week alone, the House and Senate are circulating three skilled worker bills – “STEM bills” – to help retain well-educated, foreign-born graduates, including bills from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), Senator Schumer (D-NY), and Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). We applaud Congress for considering these high tech immigration bills to rectify this important issue.

Here’s a brief explanation of each bill:

Today, the House will consider Chairman Smith’s STEM Jobs Act of 2012. Introduced on the House floor this past Tuesday, the bill aims to “promote innovation, investment and research” by eliminating the diversity visa lottery program and reallocating those 55,000 annual green cards to a new green card program for foreign graduates with advanced STEM degrees from U.S. universities (first made available to doctorate graduates and then to master’s degree graduates). Accredited research universities that have been in existence for 10 or more years will qualify (including certain for-profit and online universities).

This week, Senator Schumer introduced the Benefits to Research and American Innovation through Nationality Statutes Act (“BRAINS Act”). Rather than eliminate the diversity visa lottery program, Schumer suggests creating a separate program that will also issue 55,000 new green cards to STEM graduates at the masters level or higher.

Representative Lofgren’s Attracting the Best and Brightest Act 2012 is similar to Schumer’s bill. Like the BRAINS Act, this bill does not eliminate the diversity program. Rather, it lays out criteria for a two-year program where advanced STEM graduates will have 50,000 green cards available to them. After two years, the program will cease to allow for an assessment of the program’s effectiveness.

We regret that in election season, immigration reform continues to stand out as a recurring, hot button topic. If none of these bills passes this Congress, the next Congress and Administration must face the immigration reform issue head on. The Internet Association supports policies that promote innovation, job creation, and economic growth and is pleased that both parties are deeply engaged in this critical issue.

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