Growing congressional support for STEM immigration reform

Congress could be making a move on legislation that would allow foreign-born students who have earned graduate degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields while in the United States to gain permanent U.S. residency status.

On Oct. 5, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee held an immigration-reform hearing that included discussion about retaining students trained in STEM fields. Four witnesses from academia, university administration and industry testified about the role of STEM-trained workers in maintaining America’s international competitiveness.

The hearing gives advocates for STEM immigration reform hope that a change is in the works. While the chairman of House Judiciary Committee, U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, has voiced concerns about possible complications from increasing the pool of legal immigrants, the hearing appeared to have addressed some of those issues. In fact, a committee staff member said that Smith is “considering a few proposals” and that the issue “is on his radar.”

Several pieces of legislation dealing with immigration reform that would allow graduate students trained in STEM disciplines to obtain a green card have been introduced.

On Oct. 11, U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, introduced the American Innovation and Education Act, which would amend immigration laws to grant STEM graduate students permanent residence and provide several safeguards to abuse of the system, such as asking the National Science Foundation to certify the research quality of the institutions granting the degrees.

In June, U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., introduced the Immigration Driving Entrepreneurship in America Act, also aimed at granting permanent residency for foreign-born STEM graduate students. However, that bill is unlikely to gain wide support, as Lofgren is a member of the House minority.

Additionally, U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., introduced in January the Stopping Trained in America Ph.D.s from Leaving the Economy Act, aimed at allowing U.S.-trained Ph.D. students to gain permanent residence and be exempted from H-1B visa limitations.

Meanwhile, ASBMB members met with Flake the day before the immigration-reform hearing during the biannual ASBMB Hill Day. Nine invited investigators, along with members of the ASBMB Public Affairs Committee, came to Washington and met with their congressmen to advocate for National Institutes of Health funding and biomedical research.

Read the statement on the hearing last week from Smith here, or watch the webcast here.

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