December 09, 2013
NSPE TODAY: POLICY PERSPECTIVES
BY SARAH OGDEN
Congress is taking an unconventional approach to solving one jobs problem by making it easier for certain foreign nationals to work in the United States. That's right: Two pieces of legislation in Congress would grant additional visas to highly educated science, technology, engineering, and mathematics professionals in order to strengthen the STEM workforce and enhance U.S. competitiveness in the global marketplace.
The Stopping Trained in America PhDs From Leaving the Economy (STAPLE) Act of 2011 (H.R. 399) and Immigration Driving Entrepreneurship in America (IDEA) Act of 2011 (H.R. 2161) would enable foreign nationals who have earned an advanced degree in a STEM subject from a U.S. institution and who have secured a job with an American employer to skip to the head of the visa line. The IDEA Act also would establish a fund to benefit low-income American students enrolled in STEM degree programs using the fees that employers pay to hire foreign workers.
Students From Abroad
NSPE historically has opposed increasing the number of H-1B visas because foreign engineers may not have the same background in professional practices (including building codes and standards and ethics) as American engineers, potentially endangering the public health and safety. Foreign engineers who have been educated in the U.S., however, already have a foundation in American engineering practices, differentiating them from their foreign-educated counterparts.
In the coming months, the NSPE Legislative and Government Affairs Committee plans to examine the complex issue of strengthening the American STEM workforce by granting additional visas to U.S.-educated foreign STEM professionals. Whatever the outcome, it seems clear that welcoming qualified professionals into the country must be coupled with ensuring that all engineers practicing in the U.S. have a solid background in American professional practices.
Fixing the Problem?
There is some suggestion that the well-intended legislation might not actually fix America's STEM workforce problem. The NSF reports that between 2004 and 2007 (the last years for which statistics were available), an overwhelming 76%−82% of foreign science and engineering doctoral students successfully found work in the U.S. after graduation. The students who left returned to their home countries of Taiwan, Japan, and India. Though the rate of successful employment stateside may have decreased since 2007 (no new data is available yet), the fact that most foreign doctoral graduates who wanted to were able to remain in the U.S. and that many of the students who returned home were from technologically competitive countries begs the question: Would the enticement of a green card be enough to lure STEM talent back to the U.S.?
Read NSPE's issue brief on H-1 and L-1 visas at www.nspe.org/IssuesandAdvocacy/TakeAction/IssueBriefs/index.html. For more information on legislation NSPE is following, visit the Legislation Action Center at www.capwiz.com/nspe.
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