STEM updates

Update, Jan 20, 2014

With the number of international students going to the US continuing to increase and the number of students from India exploding by a whopping 40% (see my article in the Hindu, Indian students go all out for a US college degree - Nov 8, 2013) there now is a real concern that there will be so many international students seeking internships and jobs but there won't be enough H-1B visas.

There appears to be general consensus that the House of Representatives will pass some kind of H-1B visa bill that is similar to the Senate's version.  The Senate bill would increase limits for temporary high-skilled H-1B visas to 115,000, rising to a maximum of 180,000, from the current 65,000 per year.  But even this higher number is unlikely to quell new demand with so many international students seeking jobs.

The Senate bill includes a provision for American tech companies such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft to not fall under H-1B visa caps.  Even if this were to pass the House bill, the immediate result will be minor.  After all, every international student cannot hope to get in to an American high tech firm.

The obvious challenge for international students is to find schools and fields of study which have the best chance of resulting in an internship or a job, within a year of graduation.  This additional year is the time that the US government grants to students to remain in the US on an F1-Practical Training visa.  After the year is out and the student hasn't yet found a job, the student may be forced to return home.

With such a glut of foreign students in the US, there is a likelihood that so many students will have to return home that the US will no longer be a country attractive to international students in the future.  After all, if the chance for getting a job is low, why study in the US in the first place?  The Columbus Dispatch newspaper ran a story under the headline summarizing this problem: "Cap on work visas could hurt recruiting of foreign students."  Recommended reading.

    Update, June 27, 2013

    The US Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill by a vote of 68-32.  According to the New York Times, the following proposals are now part of the bill:

    1. Would increase limits for temporary high-skilled H-1B visas to 115,000, rising to a maximum of 180,000, from the current 65,000 per year.

    2. Would create a new temporary “W” visa for low-skilled workers, offering 20,000 visas in the first year, increasing to 75,000 annually and possibly higher, based on the labor market.

    3. Would create a new three-year visa for entrepreneurs who start companies in the United States.

    Nothing has become law yet because the House of Representatives is developing its own version of an immigration reform bill.  Things certainly look promising but as we have said before, at this point, it's best to wait and see. 

    Update, May 4, 2013

    The technology industry is lobbying heavily to pass provisions of the immigration bill which will be enormously helpful to international students who graduate from US colleges with a STEM degree.

    The New York Times reports that the "bill is written in such a way that it penalizes companies that have a large share of foreign guest workers among their United States work forces, eventually making it impossible for them to bring in any more".  This means that companies like Infosys, TCS and Wipro will get hit no longer being able to import resources from India in large numbers as they are now doing.

    "It allows large American companies that have many more American workers to continue to import workers. And it includes a provision that exempts from the guest worker count those employees that companies sponsor for green cards, essentially a bonus to American businesses like Facebook whose work forces are growing fast".  This means that the Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Intel and Google will be able to import as many foreign resources as they wish.  In fact, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook has written an article in the Washington Post about this topic.

    The technology industry says that foreign students who are educated at US graduate schools automatically belong to a pool that is brighter and more entrepreneurial.   But we fear that with so many foreign students flocking to the US, and legally permitted to stay looking for work, wages (and labor quality) will likely stay depressed. 

    Nothing has become law yet.  At this point, it's best to wait and see. 

    Update, Feb 12, 2013

    Proposals to increase STEM visas continue to invite scrutiny and opposition from many people who believe that Americans actually have sufficiently qualified workers to perform STEM jobs.  They argue that there is no need to import inferior foreign students to do these jobs.   

    Here's a provocative article by a professor from the University of California in Davis.  He agrees with our assessment that schools recruit foreign students for all the wrong reasons - because international students pay higher fees than in-state residents.  And he says that these students don't contribute much to the US economy - in other words, the students' individual ROIs are low.

    Update, Feb 1, 2013
    The high-technology industry says that the US is not producing sufficient numbers of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) graduates and companies must rely on foreign STEM graduates to fill roles in technology companies.  For STEM proponents, the legislative environment is strengthening.  There appears to be a 60-40 chance that a STEM law will pass before the end of 2013 and be loaded with goodies for the average STEM graduate.  Eight influential senators in the US Congress are proposing a number of changes through their Immigration Innovation Act.  The President has said that he is supportive.  Key features are:

    1. Allow dual intent for foreign students at U.S. colleges and universities to provide the certainty they need to ensure their future in the United States.  If this provision passes, it will remove a major headache for international students who graduate from US universities and intend to pursue a career in the US.  Currently, international students who are about to graduate resort to a whole host of legal tricks to keep their immigration status valid while at the same time look for jobs.  This burden will go away.
    2. The number of H-1B visa allocations will be increasedWith new H-1B visa allocations, international students will have a better chance of finding employers willing to sponsor them for temporary employment visas.
    3. The bill would also permit spouses of H-1B visa recipients to work in the country and eliminate them from employment-based green card caps.  Currently dual income couples face a major problem in the US.  If the husband gets a job through an H-1B visa, the wife, who is qualified and wishes to work, has to get her own H-1B visa.  [Spouses of H-1B visa holders are provided with H-4 visas which do no allow them to work].  But the number of H-1B visas available is limited, so the wife generally ends up not being able to work although she may have a job offer.  With the passage of this provision, a major headache will be removed.
    4. Eliminate annual per-country limits for employment based visa petitioners and adjust per-country caps for family-based immigrant visas.  For people who are already on H-1B visas waiting for their green cards, this is probably the best news of all.  Most readers of our site have heard about horror stories about professionals from India and the Asian subcontinent having to wait 5-7 years to get their green cards because of retrogression and the per-country cap.  This horror will go away.
    For a full summary of the Immigration Innovation Act, click here.  

    We caution readers that these great ideas are still at the legislative proposal stage by a group of eight senators from both the Republican and Democratic parties.  At least 51 senators have to approve these ideas before legislative progress can be made.  And these proposals will be subject to amendments which means that there could be some changes to the goodie list.  

    Once the senate passes its version of the bill, it has to approved by the House of Representatives which is a different congressional body.  Because STEM provisions are part of a larger immigration bill, the bill could die in the House.  [The President has said he will not sign piecemeal legislation so a STEM-only bill is unlikely to pass].  Or it could be modified in which case the Senate has to approve the House changes.  If the Senate doesn't , the bill may die.  Assuming that the stars are lined and a single bill passed by both houses goes to the president, and he signs it, then and then alone does it become law.  [If the president doesn't like the bill, he could veto the entire bill in which case the bill dies again].

    In short, there are lots of pitfalls between now and final passage.  But like the old Chinese proverb, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" - we are thrilled that the first step has been taken.  We can only wait to see what will happen in the coming months.

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