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Congress Should Cooperate to Keep Skilled College Graduates in the U.S.

Congress has long been aware that the tech industry suffers from a severe shortage of highly educated workers who can meet the needs of an industry driven by research and innovation.  At last, both Democrats and Republicans are moving forward with proposals to alleviate the shortage by granting up to 55,000 or more green cards per year to the best and brightest foreign-born students who agree to stay and work in the United States.  In order to qualify for the new green cards, candidates would need a job offer and an advanced degree in at least one of the so-called STEM fields of Science, Technology, Engineering or Math.

``In a global economy, we cannot afford to train these foreign workers in the U.S. and then send them back home to work for our competitors,’’ said  House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas)  after proposing draft legislation that would allow the highest qualified workers with a committed job offer to remain in the U.S..

Under Chairman Smith’s legislation, foreign-born Ph.Ds. could apply for green cards if they agreed to work for at least five years in a STEM field in the U.S. or for the petitioning employer.    If some of the 55,000 visas allotted each year are not taken by Ph.D. graduates, workers with master’s degrees in STEM related fields will be eligible to apply for a green card. 

Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) introduced similar legislation called the ``Attracting the Best and Brightest Act of 2012, ” and Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) introduced the BRAINS Act (Benefits to Research and American Innovation through Nationality Statutes Act of 2012)While the three bills have some substantive differences, they are written with the goal of ensuring the highest qualified academic candidates – those with Ph.Ds. and master’s degrees --, have the option of staying in the United States.

The technology industry needs these reforms now because there simply are not enough U.S. citizens with the expertise in these fields, and far too few U.S. citizens in the current STEM academic pipeline. According to current data from the National Science Foundation, 57 percent of engineering doctoral candidates, 54 percent of computer science candidates, and 51 percent of physics candidates are foreign-born.

Each year, highly qualified graduate students leave the United States because employers can’t secure a visa that will allow them to remain in the U.S.  Instead, these students return home to other countries where they compete directly with U.S.-based companies.  

Together with the Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act, which passed the House last year and is pending in the Senate, these reforms would go a long way toward helping the U.S. win the global competition for high-skilled talent.  Qualcomm urges Congress to work together to push through legislation that will not only keep critical jobs in the United States but will also ensure that the U.S. retains its position as the global leader in high tech innovation.  

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