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Is Congress Seeing Stars?


Friday, May 18, 2012

The American economy continues to sputter along.

There are an estimated two million unfilled high-tech jobs in the U.S.

And yet, there are only 85,000 H-1B visas available annually to accommodate qualifying high-tech workers and all other specialty occupation workers from foreign nations.

Is this any way to run a recovery?

Senator John Cornyn, who sits on a panel that oversees immigration, has decided to do something about it. As Reuters reported ((http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/16/us-usa-congress-visas-idUSBRE84F01W20120516) earlier this week, Senator Cornyn has introduced legislation to provide an additional 55,000 H-1B visas each year for graduates with master’s and doctoral degrees. Known as “The STAR Act of 2012,” the bill attempts to provide a higher visa ceiling so that science, technology, engineering, and math students (better known as the “STEM” fields) can fill high-tech jobs and remain in the country before the H-1B cap is reached.

On the surface, the legislation appears to be a meaningful, if somewhat inadequate, measure to address the outflow of foreign students who gain invaluable education at our top research universities and colleges only to be forced to return home. For instance, it is currently estimated our higher academic institutions host 150,000 Chinese students and over 100,000 Indian students. Many of these students are pursuing post-graduate degrees in STEM fields, only to return home once their studies are over because they have no option to remain here.

Unfortunately, however well-intended Senator Cornyn’s bill is, it is probably dead out of the gate because of politics on both sides of the aisle. It is unclear if some of Senator Cornyn’s fellow Republicans who are more conservative will ever back the bill. Reuters reports that Cornyn’s bill appears to throw them a bone by offsetting the 55,000 increase in H-1B visas by eliminating 55,000 “diversity visas” intended for foreign nationals from countries with low immigration rates to the U.S. On the other side of the aisle, it is unlikely most Democrats will approve of a bill that narrowly targets certain workers in the absence of comprehensive immigration reform.

This political discord is a sad reminder that as the U.S. moves from a manufacturing- to an information-based economy, immigration is not a Republican or Democrat issue – it is an American issue that is central to our economic vitality and economic security. The STAR Act of 2012 faces an uncertain future. But what is clear is that if it and measures like it do not get signed into law, we can expect many stars to leave our shores for other opportunities in their native countries. And this is something Americans of all political persuasions cannot afford.



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