US: sector welcomes bipartisan effort to keep STEM graduates

The US international education sector has welcomed a piece of legislation that seeks to keep STEM graduates in America. However, concerns remain that political hurdles and a possible government shutdown will make the legislation difficult to pass.

The Keep STEM Talent Act was introduced earlier this year by bipartisan lawmakers including US representatives, Bill Foster, Mike Lawler, Wiley Nickel and Sylvia Garcia.

The bill seeks to make certain advanced STEM degree holders eligible for permanent resident status.

It would also allow them to remain in the US following their graduation and remove barriers for them to work in the United States.

“We must expand America’s STEM workforce to compete in the global economy,” said congressman Bill Foster.

“Our country gives international STEM students world-class educations, only to turn them away when they want to stay in the United States after graduation and contribute their skills to our economy.”

Foster said that allowing these graduates to stay would help put the US on the cutting edge of scientific research and technological development and create “good-paying American jobs along the way”.

“I’m proud to lead this bipartisan effort to build up our STEM workforce,” he added.

Congressman Mike Lawler noted that every year, hundreds of thousands of international students come to the US for a “world-class education only to take that knowledge and talent with them when they leave”.

He said that the Keep STEM Talent Act will enable more international students who have completed advanced STEM degrees from US institutions to continue working in the US when they graduate.

“This will enable them to contribute to our economy and help America retain its position as the world leader in science and technology,” Lawler said.

Congressman Wiley Nicke said the act was a piece of “common sense, bipartisan legislation” which would help bolster scientific and technological research in the US.

Greater certainty will increase the the country’s appeal

Heather Stewart, counsel and director for Immigration Policy at NAFSA told The PIE News that the US is in competition with many other countries to attract and retain highly educated individuals that help fuel innovation and contribute to their local communities and economies.

“While other countries have created options for permanent employment opportunities and clear paths to becoming full members of their societies, the US has no real path to green card status for international students,” Stewart said.

Earlier this week, NAFSA CEO Fanta Aw called for a direct path to permanent legal status for students after they graduate from US institutions after the Supreme Court declined to hear a case calling for an end of the OPT program.

Stewart explained that The Keep STEM Talent Act would create a direct path to green card status for certain US STEM degree master’s degree and higher graduates and remove the barrier annual green card caps for these graduates.

“Greater certainty in being able to work after graduation would not only increase the appeal of US higher education institutions, but also have a direct impact on our economy but also have a direct impact on our economy.”

Stewart cited research which has shown that an additional 100,000 international student graduates of US colleges and universities each year would like to stay and work permanently in the US.

“They could add up to $233 billion to the US economy this decade and reduce STEM-related talent shortages by about a quarter,” Stewart added.

Political hurdles

NAFSA’s Stewart told The PIE that it is a positive sign that the Keep STEM Talent Act has been introduced with bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. However she warned that the legislation could still be hard to pass.

“As illustrated by the failure of both the House and the Senate to pass their necessary bills to fund the government in the next fiscal year, there are significant political challenges facing the passage of any bills of consequence,” Stewart said.

“How next year’s budget is resolved may be a helpful indicator of what may be possible in the coming year.”

Sherif Barsoum, senior associate vice president for Global Services for the Steinhardt International Education Program at New York University echoed concerns around the progress the bill is likely to make.

“While this bill is a welcomed piece of legislation that would keep the best and the brightest graduates in the US, I am sure it will face many hurdles in congress,” Barsoum said.

Speaking on behalf of the Association of International Education Administrators, Barsoum explained that the bill could be “difficult to pass” given the government shutdown looming and “the economy and inflation on everyone’s mind”.

Barsoum added that he believed the impact of a bill would bolster the value of a US education and would help the country compete with Canada, Europe, and Australia for world talent.

Vice president and chief of Staff, Government Relations at the American Council on Education, Sarah Spreitzer, also told The PIE that she did not think there is any likelihood that immigration legislation will pass this year.

“But we applaud Rep Foster’s efforts to allow these high skilled graduates to stay in the US,” she added.

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