Alternatives to Stapling a Green Card to Foreigners� STEM Diplomas

Don Tennant

The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing yesterday to address the complex issue of how to retain foreign-born technology talent that�s educated here and that stands to spark innovation that creates jobs, without undermining job opportunities for Americans. A parallel issue is how to do that without encouraging the growth of a diploma-mill industry in which unscrupulous academic institutions would lure revenue with the promise of a shortcut to a green card.

The hearing was titled, "STEM the Tide: Should America Try to Prevent an Exodus of Foreign Graduates of U.S. Universities with Advanced Science Degrees?" The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Lamar Smith (R-Texas), did a good job of encapsulating the debate. Here�s an excerpt from the statement he submitted to the hearing:

Talented students from around the world contribute to the graduate STEM programs of our universities. In 2009, foreign students received nearly 4 out of every 10 master�s degrees awarded in STEM fields and about the same percentage of all doctorates.

These students have the potential to come up with an invention that could save thousands of lives or jump-start a whole new industry. They also have the ability to start a company that could provide jobs to tens of thousands of American workers.

But what happens to these foreign students after they graduate? They are in great demand by the universities themselves and by American industry. That is why more than 6 out of every 10 science and engineering doctoral graduates from 2002 were still here in 2007.

However, our immigration system does not always put American interests first. We have the most generous level of legal immigration in the world. Yet we select only 5% of our immigrants based on the skills and education they bring to America.

Many people make a compelling argument: Why don�t we simply offer a green card to any foreign student who graduates from a U.S. university with an advanced STEM degree and wants to stay in the U.S.? After all, why would we want to educate scientists and engineers here and then send them home to work for our competitors?

But we should keep several points in mind. First, all graduate degrees are not the same. It takes an average of over seven years in graduate school for STEM students to receive a doctorate. A master�s can be earned in two years.

And when it comes to the proportion of persons who have applied for patents, those with doctorates far outpace those with bachelor�s and master�s degrees. Sixteen percent of scientists and engineers with doctorates working in STEM fields have applied for patents, compared to only two percent with bachelor�s degrees and five percent with master�s degrees.

Second, a visa �pot of gold� could create an incentive for schools to aim solely to attract tuition-paying foreign students with the lure of a green card.

As the former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services at the State Department has warned, �A school in the United States can be found for even the poorest academic achiever � Unfortunately, schools that actively recruit foreign students for primarily economic reasons, and without regard to their qualifications or intentions, may encourage such high-risk underachievers to seek student visa status as a ticket into the United States.�

It�s clear that the answer does not lie in stapling a green card to the diploma of every foreign student who obtains a master�s or doctorate degree in a STEM field. So what is the answer? Perhaps it lies in suggestions submitted to the hearing by the American Council on International Personnel, a Washington-based advocacy group that lobbies to advance employment-based immigration for highly educated professionals:

  • Welcome foreign professionals holding an advanced education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics by exempting them from green card quotas or increasing the number of available visas so that these talented professionals can get on with their lives quickly and predictably.
  • Grant dual intent to immigrate to students seeking STEM master�s degree or higher to eliminate uncertainty caused by the current red-tape.
  • Exempt the spouse and children of STEM graduates from the employment-based green card quotas to ensure that the quotas are fully used by workers ready and able to contribute to today�s economic growth.
  • Permit applicants for adjustment to live and work in the United States during the pendency of the visa petition so the employee can contribute to the U.S. economy while waiting for a visa to become available.
  • Implement a �Trusted Employer� registration system that would streamline processing for American employers with proven track records of compliance and a commitment to hiring Americans.

I especially like the �Trusted Employer� idea, and I would be in favor of limiting the issuance of temporary work visas to employees of companies that earn that status. I�m also in favor of approaching this issue with a level head and an open mind. The greater our collective will to do that, the greater our chances of resolving the debate in a way that serves the best interests of our country.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Oct 6, 2011 11:28 AM who knows who knows  says:

I would agree everything but "Implement a �Trusted Employer� registration system that would streamline processing for American employers with proven track records of compliance and a commitment to hiring Americans."

IMHO employer should not  be given any special treatment when giving Green Cards to STEM graduates. It should be tied to specific universities (mostly real university with good track record of 2 decades).

Employer tie-up would end up creating pool of companies that would attract those STEM graduates which will be unfair for other companies who didn't make it to such elite group.

In my experience Fortune 500 generally (not all the cases) are not good in utilizing real potential of employees (or innovation...except few companies which live only on innovation), they tend to have regular 9-5 job with predefined set of works which anyone with bachelor degree can do.

Also, this elite group of company would use this Green Card as bargain chip to pay less and also use it as retention tool which will be side effects of having special treatment given to companies.

Oct 6, 2011 12:58 PM Roy Lawson Roy Lawson  says:

"I especially like the �Trusted Employer� idea, and I would be in favor of limiting the issuance of temporary work visas to employees of companies that earn that status."

This is not a good idea because employers should have no role in the immigration process.  Immigration needs to be an agreement between an immigrant and our elected government with no more corporate middle-men.

Corporation's only role in immigration should be to verify that employees or potential employees have a legal right to work. 

Universities should also have no direct role except in the confirmation of a degree and validating credentials they have granted the student/graduate.

When Lamar Smith talks about what's "Good for America" he is really talking about what is good for "Corporate America".  I've followed him throughout this debate and he has entirely ignored the impact of immigration on the domestic workforce and has shown no concern for those who are unemployed or forced to compete with workers paid below market wages under a host of employer-based immigration programs.

Finally, I want to repeat where these "ideas" came from: a Washington-based advocacy group that lobbies to advance employment-based immigration.

Their objective is EMPLOYMENT-based immigration.  Meaning EMPLOYER based immigration.  They represent corporations - you know those who have a long track record of fraud and abuse of employer based immigration laws that our government rarely enforces.

At the end of the day we are going to welcome immigrants to our country, and we should do that smartly.  The real debate should be on how many, what qualifications, and under what conditions.  Any program that provides additional leverage to corporations (or universities) is BAD and should be opposed. 

Just to clarify, I support stapling a (non-employer based) greencard to select graduates in a program that is competitive, ranks applicants based on education and experience (not a lottery), and there is a cap that automatically adjusts given unemployment and other economic factors.  I also think we should consider nation or origin and favor our allies. 

Now is certainly not the time to discuss increasing immigration - in fact we should be reducing immigration until unemployment levels stabilize.

Oct 6, 2011 3:33 PM Dolores Dolores  says: in response to Roy Lawson

Um, what about the underemployed and unemployed Americans with degrees and experience, who are also ready, willing, and able to contribute to America's economy? Last I heard, these folks numbered in the 10's of millions. Why is it ok to flush American brains and skill down the john, but the foreigners are all precious? Besides, don't their countries need them more? Isn't it a form of theft for us to lure and keep them? And a shame to do this at the expense of our own brainy people.

Oct 6, 2011 3:37 PM Roy Lawson Roy Lawson  says: in response to Dolores

My last paragraph addresses that:


Now is certainly not the time to discuss increasing immigration - in fact we should be reducing immigration until unemployment levels stabilize.


We need to support a program that fairly considers the local labor force and economic conditions.

Oct 6, 2011 3:49 PM Dolores Dolores  says: in response to Roy Lawson

Two of my sons have STEM degrees, both in grad school right now in fact. Yes, they are working, but pay, conditions, and prospects for advancement are threadbare compared to what they were in the 90s. And a lot of our new grads have to move home, wait tables, serve coffee. That ain't right.

Oct 6, 2011 4:12 PM Roy Lawson Roy Lawson  says: in response to Dolores

"That ain't right."

I agree.  We need to be smart about immigration - and from purely a political standpoint there are two vocal groups:  the "kick-em all out" and the  "let-em all in" camps.

I'm in a camp that appreciates immigrants and immigration, but feel it is wrong to make the goal of immigration subsidizing labor (to reduce costs) and it is wrong to set immigration at levels that cause real pain to American workers.

The goal of immigration should be to increase the quality of life for the vast majority of Americans.  People have corrupted something that should be sacrosanct with profits the driving motivator.

Oct 6, 2011 5:31 PM WeThePeople WeThePeople  says:

Rather than staple a green card to their diploma, charge these foreign visa students with the full cost of their tuition  minus the cost of a suitcase to send their belongings home,  and apply it to pay for  American students unable to get seats in these STEM programs because they are filled by foreign visa students. 

It is dispicible that the USA subsidizes college tuition for foreign students who take valuable resources away from the students and families who paid for them in the first place - American taxpayers.

I suspect this program is even more fraud filled than its evil cousins, the H-1b and B-1 visa programs.

If foreign students want to attend college here - great. Make them pay full out-of state tuition to attend.   There is ZERO obligation for the USA to help these entitled students to find careers in the USA.. There is 100% obligation to ensure that American students, first and foremost have the opportunity to education and a career in our own country.

Oct 7, 2011 7:22 PM hoapres hoapres  says:

Here is a novel idea.

Simply reduce the number of graduate schools and cut enrollment of graduate students.

No one wants to admit that an MIT PhD is worth a lot more than a PhD from a lower ranked college.  The lower ranked colleges fill up the schools with foreign students as Americans want to go to MIT before a podunk university.

Not only should we not even try to stem the mass exodus of the average foreign graduate, we should encourage it as well as we have too many Americans that are out of work even with STEM degrees.

No doubt some true geniuses exist but we are talking about a couple of thousand.

Oct 7, 2011 7:39 PM Madagasper Madagasper  says:

Did anyone notice that the Nobel Prize winners in the sciences this year are almost all America-born Americans?  So much for all the noise about Americans needing foreigners to do their science for them.

Oct 8, 2011 8:57 AM Wakjob Wakjob  says:

Hey Don, you'd better read up on Federal law: ALL foreign workers are illegal and can't work here if qualified Americans are out of work - regardless of how educated or smart the foreigners are:

TITLE 8 > CHAPTER 12 > SUBCHAPTER II > Part II > � 1182
� 1182. Inadmissible aliens

(a) Classes of aliens ineligible for visas or admission
Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, aliens who are inadmissible under the following paragraphs are ineligible to receive visas and ineligible to be admitted to the United States: 


(D) Immigrant membership in totalitarian party
(i) In general Any immigrant who is or has been a member of or affiliated with the Communist or any other totalitarian party (or subdivision or affiliate thereof), domestic or foreign, is inadmissible. 


(5) Labor certification and qualifications for certain immigrants
(A) Labor certification
(i) In general Any alien who seeks to enter the United States for the purpose of performing skilled or unskilled labor is inadmissible, unless the Secretary of Labor has determined and certified to the Secretary of State and the Attorney General that�
(I) there are not sufficient workers who are able, willing, qualified (or equally qualified in the case of an alien described in clause (ii)) and available at the time of application for a visa and admission to the United States and at the place where the alien is to perform such skilled or unskilled labor, and
(II) *** the employment of such alien will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of workers in the United States similarly employed. ***

Oct 17, 2012 8:01 PM STEM student STEM student  says: in response to Roy Lawson
Would you rather keep a really good scientist and 2,3 members of his direct family compared to keeping 3 average scientists? Letting spouses and children of brightest scientists staying with them is a way to encourage them to stay in the U.S. You can't cut the quota for these relatives in order to keep average people. You have to make getting GC through employment is a prestigious thing to achieve, not just an average thing anyone who is in a MS/Ph.D. program can automatically get. If you are in Ph.D. program, you'll know that not all Ph.D. students are bright and deserve it. Higher degree does not mean they are better than undergrads either. Ask someone who has a Ph.D. works in a company to prove this. Reply
Oct 17, 2012 8:10 PM STEM student STEM student  says: in response to hoapres
Yes! Geniuses exist but there is already a category for them and it's really easy for them to have a GC, no waiting time. Reply

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