Creative Commons

Thursday, April 7, 2011

PhD graduates in Science and Engineering from US Colleges to Earn Right to Stay

In his State of the Union address in January 2011, Barack Obama urged America to “stop expelling talented, responsible young people who could be staffing our research labs or starting a new business”.

A bipartisan legislation introduced by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Might just grant Obama his wish. If passed into law, it will allow foreign-born scientists and engineers remain in the country after earning an advanced degree from a U.S. university. Last week, a key congressional panel heard proposals to retain the “best and brightest” foreign students without disadvantaging U.S. workers. Foreign-born students receive 37% of all U.S. Ph.D. degrees in science and engineering, for example, and create a disproportionate share of start-up companies. But accomplishing that goal without igniting the passions that traditionally have made immigration reform too hot for politicians to handle? That’s a much harder job. Those who want to reform the system say they are heartened by the broad interest in the topic. The encouraging signs, they say, include President

Currently foreign-born, U.S-trained scientists, who wish to remain in the country, are eligible to obtain a temporary work visa. Many graduates begin their professional careers by seeking an employer sponsored temporary visa, called an H-1B, valid for six years.

The H-1B visa, good for up to 6 years, was created in 1990 as a way station for those on the road to earning permanent residency status, or becoming “green card” holders. But employers who use this privilege to keep wages low and restrict job mobility have abused the H-1B.

Another problem is that demand for H-1B visas historically has far exceeded supply; in boom times the annual cap, now 65,000, has been met within days of a new year.

Creating a direct path from degree to citizenship would likely make U.S. graduate schools even more attractive to foreign students. However, some labor researchers worry that institutions with low standards might start graduate programs simply to attract paying customers, without regard to quality.

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