Foreign students earn roughly two-thirds of the total engineering Ph.D.s earned in the U.S., yet there is no policy to allow, let alone encourage, them to stay in the U.S. after graduation. I was aware of this problem 14 years ago when I started working in EDA, but haven't paid much attention since then.
So, I scoured the congressional websites to learn what our leaders have been up to in terms of making it easier for foreign engineers to work and create jobs in the U.S.. I also stumbled on a couple of bills that promote and foster science and technology innovation. I found less than I expected, many already dead or stalled. There are imponderable feats of politics involved in getting anything to the president's desk for signing, but here are the main bills you should know about:
The Innovate America Act 2011 (S.239) was introduced in January 2011 by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) with bi-partisan cosponsors. It would expand research tax credits, tax credits for donating equipment to schools, fund 100 new STEM high schools, and remove regulatory barriers for exporting industries. It was referred to the Committee on Finance, of which Klobuchar is a member, and there it died.
But, a similar bill, the America Innovates Act of 2012 (H.R.4720), introduced by Rush Holt (D-NJ), would establish an Innovation Bank to fund science and technology job training. There has been no action on this bill yet.
There’s been more action specifically around immigration reform, with equally little to show for it. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and 25 cosponsors introduced the Immigration Driving Entrepreneurship in America (IDEA) Act of 2011 (H.R.2161) in June 2011. This would have given priority worker visas for immigrants with master’s degree or higher in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM workers). I say “would have” because the IDEA Act was sent to some committee to die.
But wait! The Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act (HR 3012) was introduced by Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) in November 2011 and passed the US House with a stunning 89% aye votes, even though the bill doesn't have a catchy acronym. However, it’s been blocked in the senate by Charles Grassley (R-IA). I think there are ways to get around the hold (through a cloture motion), but what do I know? Stay tuned.
Then there is the Startup Act 2.0 (S. 3217) introduced by Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) in May 2012, and hearings should happen soon. This bill reforms immigration law to create new STEM visas, creates an entrepreneur’s visa, and eliminates per-country cap for work visas. You can read a thoughtful opinions on it at TechCrunch. There is a fair amount of press on this one, from the Washington Post to the Huffington Post.
Also introduced in May was the SMART Jobs Act (S. 3192) from Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN). The Sustaining our Most Advanced Researchers and Technology Act (really? All that just to get the SMART acronym?) is designed to keep foreign-born US grad students here to work. A neat part is that green cards issued under this visa rule wouldn’t count towards the existing per-country caps. It’s getting a lot of support from technology companies and organizations, so maybe it will get some traction.
If the SMART Jobs Act fails, there’s always the similar STAR Act of 2012 (ready for this? STAR=Securing the Talent America Requires for the 21st Century Act of 2012 [S. 3185]. Seriously, I imagine some high-fives going around the marbled halls for that one.) This one was introduced by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), and would provide additional green cards for skilled immigrants in STEM fields.
Considering that only about 4% of introduced bills ever get past the committee stage (based on 2009-2010 data), there’s little hope any of these bills will become law. The best chance to exercise your influence (aside from handing over a chunk of your wealth) is to call or email your senator and representative and urge them to act on these bills. You can find your senator and representative through this webiste.