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The IDEA Act Works to Keep Highly Skilled Talent in the U.S.

This week, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, along with 13 of her colleagues, took a major step towards advancing innovation and creating jobs in the U.S. with the introduction the Immigration Driving Entrepreneurship in America Act of 2011 – the IDEA Act (H.R. 2161).

This bill, if enacted, would ensure that United States employers have access to the best-trained minds in the world in science, wireless technology, engineering and math. For too long, outdated policies in the U.S. have served to drive away much needed foreign talent and the IDEA Act is designed to address this critical problem. The bill is very complex, so I would like to discuss just a few of its critical provisions to illustrate how important these changes are for U.S. innovation.

One of the key provisions in the IDEA Act would allow students with advanced STEM degrees from qualified universities to obtain green cards immediately upon graduation, allowing them to begin working for U.S. companies as permanent residents of the U.S.

Currently, talented foreign-born innovators who wish to remain and work in the U.S. are required to go through a cumbersome and lengthy visa process that can last up to ten years. This is a disincentive to stay and work in the U.S. after graduating from our top universities.

At Qualcomm, the vast majority of our foreign national recruits want to remain and work in the U.S. permanently, but there is virtually no way, under current law, to make that happen. The IDEA Act would assure that advanced degree STEM graduates with a job offer related to their field of study from a U.S. employer could stay and work in the U.S. What a wonderful way to attract and welcome these highly talented individuals who have so much to contribute!

The IDEA Act would also help eliminate green card backlogs, which is critical to our ability to attract skilled people, especially from India and China. Why spend ten or more years in limbo where spouses can’t work, travel is difficult, and job mobility is restricted when there are attractive professional opportunities abroad?

It would also recapture unused green cards from prior years. These are common sense changes that would help to bring our immigration system into the 21st century, and align it better with the needs of a global economy.

Reforms to the H-1B visa system are also included, allowing spouses to work, easing promotions, and adding to job mobility.

Finally, the IDEA Act addresses the need to boost STEM education here in the U.S. with provisions that would help to improve the pipeline of U.S. students who have the skills necessary for technological innovation, a goal that Qualcomm is also deeply committed to.

Highly skilled immigration laws are complex and have not evolved to attract innovators. Rather, the focus has been on enforcement of wage laws and limiting the numbers of individuals who can stay and work here. The result is detrimental to job growth as other nations reform their laws to attract highly skilled foreign talent.

We can no longer assume that the United States will be the first choice for talented engineers, scientists and technologists. The IDEA Act would go a long way toward making the U.S. an attractive destination for talented people who have the skills to innovate and create jobs in the U.S.

Alice Tornquist is Vice President of Government Affairs in Qualcomm’s Washington, DC office.

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