Statement on House Hearing on “STEM the Tide”

Statement for the Record

U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement

Hearing on: “STEM the Tide: Should America Try to Prevent an Exodus of Foreign Graduates of U.S. Universities with Advanced Science Degrees?”

October 5, 2011

We commend the Subcommittee for considering a smart change to our immigration laws that could immediately jumpstart our economy: offering green cards to those who earn advanced degrees in critical fields from America’s universities.

America’s immigration policy is broken, but – with sensible reforms – could do more to welcome the people with the precious expertise and talent that could drive economic growth and job creation. These are the kinds of immigrants who don’t compete with U.S. workers, but instead complement them and expand the pool of jobs for all. They’re the scientists who develop new technology. The engineers who conduct groundbreaking R&D. The medical researchers who think up new devices and products. They’re the globally mobile cream of the crop, and they’re key to our prosperity. And it’s not only because of their special skills; they also give us knowledge of foreign markets that will help U.S. businesses increase their exports. Researchers have found that a 1% increase in immigrants working in advanced positions leads to a 3% increase in U.S. exports to their home country.

Our most critical need for talent is in the so-called “STEM” fields—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics —where jobs are growing three times faster than in the rest of the economy. The demand for STEM professionals reaches far beyond Silicon Valley into diverse fields like pharmaceuticals, medical devices, aerospace, and manufacturing. It’s true that the U.S. workforce already has an extraordinary depth and breadth of skills. But it remains that there are only so many of the most vital experts and innovators around the globe, and the competitive edge will go to the countries that attract them.

The United States has one huge advantage in this race for talent: the unrivalled stature of our colleges and universities. According to the British publication, the Times Higher Education World University Ranking, 7 of the top 10 universities in the world are American. The U.S. is also the world leader in attracting foreign students – 22 percent of all those studying outside their home countries choose the U.S. as their destination. And 60 percent of those are concentrated in critical fields like engineering, biological science, mathematics, and computer science. Foreign students represent 60 percent of those who earn a computer-science PhD in the U.S. They make up two-thirds of those who earn an engineering PhD from an American institution. And they earn half of all master’s degrees in electrical engineering that are awarded by our schools.

These graduates have received a significant American investment in their education, have a proven track record of making the discoveries and innovations that propel business and create jobs for Americans – and they are already here on our soil. But when they graduate with their degrees, our immigration system has no permanent path designed for them. After a brief grace period to stay and work, our laws allow most of them only temporary permits and an ill-defined path to a green card, all limited by restrictive rules and quotas. Our laws simply do too little to accommodate the most valuable foreign workers, even those who have U.S. credentials. This is what Partnership for a New American Economy Co-Chair and New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg calls “national suicide.” That’s why we’ve got to get smarter about the global competition for talent. Other countries are hustling to attract the top minds—and when those minds go elsewhere, they end up competing against us in the global marketplace.

So the concept discussed before the Committee is simply common sense: Foreign students in STEM fields who earn advanced degrees from a qualifying U.S. university should receive green cards to remain and work after graduation. Every one of them that remains strengthens our workforce and brightens the outlook for our economy. To ensure that America is truly getting the best and the brightest, Congress should set reasonable standards that ensure green cards for graduates of properly accredited and qualifying universities. And Congress should be strategic about how it defines the STEM fields, making sure to include some often-neglected areas—like actuarial science—where there’s a persistent shortfall of expertise.

It’s this kind of commonsense thinking—capitalizing on immigrants as assets, rather than treating them as rivals—that should guide our entire immigration system. And there’s more Congress can do. Beyond the STEM initiative, we urge Congress to pursue several reforms to the immigration system—all of them budget-neutral and with bipartisan appeal—that are desperately needed to help renew the American economy:

• Create a visa program specifically designed for foreign entrepreneurs. Immigrants helped found a quarter of all high-tech companies over a 10-year period and are twice as likely as native-born Americans to start new companies overall. But while other countries roll out the red carpet, we offer no avenue expressly designed for foreign entrepreneurs whose new businesses would create well-paying U.S. jobs. A foreign entrepreneur with U.S. funding should have access to a temporary visa to start a company in America. If the business yields new jobs for Americans, the entrepreneur should receive a green card to grow the company in the U.S.

• Allow U.S. companies better access to highly skilled talent from around the world, including by expanding temporary and permanent visa programs for skilled employment and eliminating arbitrary restrictions like the country-by-country caps on visa numbers.

• Develop more reliable ways for U.S. industry to hire much-needed seasonal and other guest workers—workers that generate additional, better-paying job opportunities for Americans. For example, we need an improved program for legal, short-term agricultural labor, one that is large enough to meet the market demand, protects the rights of both American and foreign workers, and has the flexibility to serve businesses that by their nature must adapt to seasons and weather.

All of these reforms deserve bipartisan support for the same simple reason: They will recharge the economy and help create the jobs the American worker needs. We look forward to working with the Subcommittee on the STEM initiative and other critical changes to our country’s immigration laws.

About the Partnership for a New American Economy

The Partnership for a New American Economy is a national bipartisan group of more than 350 mayors and CEOs in all 50 states making the economic case for sensible immigration reform. The Partnership’s members include mayors who represent over 33 million residents in large and small cities across the country and business leaders who employ almost 4 million people in all sectors of the economy. The Partnership believes that to compete in the 21st century global economy, America needs an immigration system that secures our borders and attracts and keeps the best, brightest and hardest working from around the world.

The Partnership’s Co-Chairs are Steven A. Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft Corporation; Robert Iger, President and CEO, Walt Disney Co.; J.W. Marriott, Jr., Chairman and CEO of Marriott International, Inc.; Jim McNerney, Chairman, President and CEO of Boeing; Rupert Murdoch, Chairman, CEO and Founder of News Corporation; Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York; Mayor Julián Castro of San Antonio; Mayor Phil Gordon of Phoenix; Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia; and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles.

About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…