I was just recently reading a news piece announcing that the US House of Representatives approved a bill to allow 55,000 foreign students, who obtain a higher degree (PhD or Masters) in a STEM field in a US university, to apply for permanent residency in the US. This was apparently a bipartisan effort supported both by Democrats and Republicans. On the face of it, this is great news, it increases influx and retention of highly intelligent foreign scientists and engineers to the US. However there are a few caveats that make it less desirable. For one, this is not a trivial process, the bill requires that applicants go through labor certification, which means that you need an offer from a university who is willing to hire you and sponsor you and then they need to post the job offer to make sure that some more worthy US citizen couldn’t fill this position first. This is a long, tedious process which universities and other employers go through now to hire people under H visas. Another limitation is that the bill excludes anyone in a biomedical field. Arguably research in biology and medicine is one of the most critically important areas of current scientific focus, and it seems shortsighted to eliminate this category altogether. Finally, if this program were to pass, it would completely replace the diversity visa category, basically a green card lottery to enable folks from various underrepresented areas of the world to immigrate to the US. Since there are less PhDs graduating in the “hard” stem fields than the 55,000 slots, the net result is a decrease in immigration. So while this bill seems like a step in the right direction, I wish it had been somewhat better thought out.

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12 Responses to STEM-migration

  1. Hermitage says:

    Is it unreasonable to ask for labor certification when unemployment rates for US citizen STEM PhDs is as high as it is? I see these comments rolling around often (esp in engineering and chemistry forums), and never really know what to think.

    • namnezia says:

      I think that’s the intent of the labor certifications, however in practice my understanding is that the positions are basically tailored to fit the applicant exactly, which then makes the whole thing into a formality.

    • Kati says:

      I agree with you, Hermitage. I know several unemployed math, physics, and chemistry PhDs…there aren’t enough jobs for them all. Allowing foreign citizens–who tend to accept lower salaries than their American counterparts–to come over just displaces American workers and keeps wages low.

      • namnezia says:

        I am foreign-born and certainly didn’t accept a lower salary when I negotiated a faculty position. Same goes for other foreign-born peers I know. This argument that immigrants, educated or otherwise displace US workers is ludicrous and complete Republican propaganda. If someone is going to get displaced, it’s going to be someone less qualified for the position, and if the US is to keep pace with the rest of the world, shutting out foreign scientists is not the way to go about this. While this bill may have had alternative objectives and is really anti-immigration as other commenters have pointed out, the idea of opening the doors to well qualified PhDs should be one that should be supported.

      • Hermitage says:

        Well, if the person getting competed out is a US citizen, then yes, they are technically being displaced out of a job by the foreign-born applicant. But that’s not the problem, imo. The problem is that there are not enough jobs to be displaced TO that pay commensurate with education received.

        It’s like applying to college. Most kids don’t give two shits if they get rejected from Harvard if they can go to Yale. There’s a gradation in options that doesn’t really seem to exist in PhD STEM employment. There’s a steep dropoff from “shit that actually uses, and pays you for, having a PhD” and “shit you could have done with a B.S. or M.S.”

        But I guess it’s simpler to go “those damn furriners” instead of wondering why the hell we have a country that places value on monetizing other people’s ideas, instead of people who make the ideas.

  2. becca says:

    The exclusion of biomedical fields is not a limitation. You can’t even pretend a labor shortage for biomed Phds exists. I’m all for comprehensive immigration reform, but this is a transparent attempt to keep STEM degreed professionals in plentiful supply so they can be low wages.

  3. DJMH says:

    I wish it had been somewhat better thought out.

    It was, in fact, quite clearly thought out, by the Republicans who wanted to masquerade as being pro-immigration reform while in reality just trying to sandbag all future, large-scale immigration reform by cherry-picking an “easy” target. This way, they can all claim they voted in favor of more immigration of high-talent workers, and cast their Democratic colleagues as ogres, but in fact the idea is to take an easy stand on an easy issue so that the Dems no longer would have it as leverage in a larger discussion about real reform. Also, of course, Republicans hate the idea of anyone else just being lucky enough to end up here, despite the fact that we were almost all of us “lucky” enough to be here.

    Don’t think it’ll go anywhere in the Senate, though of course that wasn’t their point.

    • namnezia says:

      I guess that’s a good point, since the people being targeted by this bill are folks that would have eventually obtained permanent visas if offered a position.

  4. Dave says:

    As someone who is going through the green card system right now, I feel like I should clear up a few things.

    Firstly, there is certainly no labor shortage in biomedical fields, which is why this it has been excluded from most (not all) STEM bills. Note that there have been many varieties of STEM legislation recently and all have gone nowhere. Second, it is highly questionable that there is a labor shortage in most STEM areas. There is lots of evidence suggesting that there is no need for an additional 55,000 visas, especially once you factor in the projected growth rates (or not) in many STEM fields. Third, there are already routes for well qualified biomedical scientists to obtain a GC and two of these (EB1 and EB2-NIW) do NOT require an offer of employment. Unfortunately for Chinese and Indians, the EB2 category is completely backlogged and the push for STEM bills, which essentially is a back-door to add more EB visas, has largely come from these two groups. Their wait for a GC in EB2 is currently about 5 – 7 years. Fourth, most of the recent STEM bills actually eliminated the need for a job in a STEM area, defeating the object of the bills completely (this applied to HR 6429, which is the bill this post refers too).

    Finally, the GOP is completely against adding more GCs to the total/year which is currently set at 140,000 in the EB category. Don’t confuse the GOP as pro-immigration; it is in fact the opposite. As you pointed out, too free up additional visas for this STEM bill the GOP wanted to eliminate the diversity visa program (or “green card lottery” as most know it) which has an annual quota of, yes you guessed it, 55,000. The Dems are adamantly against eliminating the DV program, and rightly so in my opinion. This is the reason the bill went nowhere. Moreover, the Dems are reluctant to pass piecemeal immigration legislation right now and would rather go for one big comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill next year.

    HR 6429 passed the house but was rejected immediately by the White House:…n_2207279.html

    It’s dead. Personally I think STEM visas are a very bad idea. An advanced degree from a US college should not entitle you to a GC unless you can show evidence that your skills are valuable and needed. This is essentially what you have to demonstrate in the current system.

  5. Dave says:

    …Oh and yes the labor certs are heavily abused in academia and private business. They do not protect US citizen workers at all.

  6. anonymous says:

    When my husband was offered a professorship in the UK, the uni had to go through this same rigmarole with the UK Border Agency, including the part requiring employers to post an advert for the open position, and proving that a British or EU citizen wasn’t able to do the position. Perhaps these sorts of requirements are relatively commonplace throughout the world?

  7. Pingback: Links 12/7/12 | Mike the Mad Biologist

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