A week after being inaugurated into his second term, US President Barack Obama has outlined a plan to fast track green cards for overseas science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) graduates of American universities. Similar proposals were also announced by a bipartisan group of senators this week, breaking a period of gridlock on the issue.
Speaking at a high school in Las Vegas, Nevada, Obama said: “Right now in one of those classrooms, there’s a student wrestling with how to turn their big idea – their Intel or Instagram – into a big business.
“We’re giving them all the skills they need to figure that out, but then we’re going to turn around and tell them to start that business and create those jobs in China or India or Mexico or someplace else? That’s not how you grow new industries in America.”
Domestic interest in science is falling, threatening the future health of the American economy
There have been mounting calls to improve stay rates of foreign STEM graduates as domestic interest in science falls, threatening the future health of the American economy. To buck the trend, Obama proposes “stapling” a green card to the PhD and master’s diplomas of those who have found employment after studying in the US.
Their employers would also have to pay a fee to support the education and training of the next generation of Americans working in STEM careers.
At the end of last year, the House of Representatives passed a fiercely debated bill that would have offered 55,000 green cards to STEM graduates. But despite support from high-tech industry, the White House and education organisations opposed the bill as it would have eliminated a visa granting programme for countries with low immigration rates.
After the eight-member bipartisan group of senators announced proposals mirroring the president’s this week, Obama said he had confidence that Democrats and Republicans would find consensus. There is also agreement over expediting citizenship for individuals illegally brought to the US as children if they graduate from college or complete two years in the armed forces.
“We can’t allow immigration reform to get bogged down in an endless debate”
“At this moment, it looks like there’s a genuine desire to get this done soon, and that’s very encouraging,” said the President. “We can’t allow immigration reform to get bogged down in an endless debate.”
NAFSA has praised the framework and congratulated the president for “stepping forward to make the case for immigration reform in compelling human terms”. In a statement it went on to say, “The president spoke eloquently about the need to make more citizenship and work opportunities available to the thousands of bright and talented foreign students now enrolled in US colleges and universities.
“Among other important provisions, NAFSA supports more green cards for STEM graduates as well as other fields that will enhance US innovation and competitiveness.”