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US one step closer towards passing STEM legislation, increasing H-1B visas

A bipartisan group of Senators introduced a bill last week that would automatically grant green cards to international graduates of US universities with degrees in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, as well as significantly increase the number of H-1B visas, reports the Alliance for International Educational and Cultural Exchange.

According to the White House, the proposal “encourages foreign graduate students educated in the US to stay there and contribute to the economy by ‘stapling’ a green card to the diplomas of STEM PhD and Master’s degree graduates from qualified US universities who have found employment in the United States.”

The legislation, the “Immigration Innovation Act of 2013” (S. 169), would also:

  • automatically grant green cards to relatives of international workers without counting these toward the green card cap, thus freeing up more green cards for international workers;
  • almost double the number of H-1B visas from the current cap of 65,000 to 115,000, or even more depending on the market’s demands;
  • grant work permits to spouses of temporary workers;
  • make job changes easier for temporary workers;
  • allow for unused employer-based visas to be rolled over from one year to the next;
  • use visa processing fees paid by employers toward a fund designed to boost STEM education in the US.

During a speech last week, President Obama declared:

“If you’re a foreign student who wants to pursue a career in science or technology, or a foreign entrepreneur who wants to start a business with the backing of American investors, we should help you do that here. Because if you succeed, you’ll create American businesses and American jobs. You’ll help us grow our economy. You’ll help us strengthen our middle class.”

The STEM legislation was announced in tandem with a four-part plan for comprehensive immigration reform President Obama outlined last week.

The Senate bill follows up on the STEM Jobs Act, which the US House of Representatives passed in December of last year. The bill would allow up to 55,000 green cards to be reallocated to foreign graduates of American research universities with advanced STEM degrees, but it was stalled due to a controversial clause which would have taken green cards away from countries with low rates of immigration to the US.

The STEM Jobs Act was one of several topics that ICEF Monitor explored in a recent video interview with Ms Patricia Juza, Vice President for Advocacy of the American Association of Intensive English Programs (AAIEP), in which she explains why the bill is so important for recruitment agents.

It’s welcoming news that US politicians on both sides of the aisle appear to be taking the country’s requirement for more STEM-skilled workers seriously. Also reported last December, a new study found science and engineering departments with doctoral students from several different countries tend to produce more publications and get more citations.

President Obama has called for the training of 100,000 new STEM teachers to prepare students for the 2.7 million new jobs expected in those sectors by 2018.

In further related news, the National Education Association granted US $200,000 to the New Jersey Center for Teaching and Learning (NJCTL) for teacher training and certification, technology and support to expand its STEM programme in Colorado. Furthermore, officials in Connecticut and Texas have announced two very different strategies to grow STEM programmes at their leading public universities.

For information on what other countries are doing to develop more STEM capacity and programming, please see our article “Demand for STEM programming continues to increase; countries race to meet it.

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