New Bill Proposes Unlimited H-1Bs and Green Cards for STEM Ph.Ds

A new bill is circulating Congress that would allow foreign students who earned Ph.Ds in certain fields from universities in the United States an easier path to employment and a green card.

H.R. 1791, called the Stopping Trained in America Ph.D.s From Leaving the Economy Act of 2009 (aka ‘STAPLE Act’), would eliminate numerical limitations for green cards and H-1Bs for foreign nationals who earned Ph.Ds in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) and have a job offer. The goal is to stop the reverse brain drain caused by the United State’s current immigration policies that thwart the ability of many of those holding these desirable STEM degrees from staying here and putting their talents to use.

In 2007, foreign nationals earned 34 percent of the doctorates awarded, most of which were in the STEM fields. In fact, in most STEM fields, foreign nationals represent the majority, outpacing their American counterparts who prefer non-science fields. For example, 30.3 percent of the degrees in engineering were awarded to foreign nationals and only 8.1 percent went to U.S. citizens in 2007, according to a study by the National Opinion Research Center headquartered at the University of Chicago.

When the new bill was announced, news sites and blogs targeting Indian readers lit up with excitement. One main reason for the attention from Indians is that these students would greatly benefit from such a program because they make up a large group of foreign nationals earning STEM-based Ph.Ds in the United States. Chinese students also account for a large percentage of Ph.Ds earned from American universities.

These two groups in particular are experiencing four- and five – year backlogs, and longer, for employment-based immigrant visas for those holding advanced degrees.

The bill was introduced March 30, 2009 by House Republican Jeff Flake from Arizona and has been sent to the Judiciary Committee for review. We will update our readers on the progress of this bill. Please note, every year many bills are introduced in Congress, but most either die or are revised for better or worse before becoming law.

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