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Washington eyes immigration policy change on high-tech graduates

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According to companies in the science and technology sector, there are not nearly enough college graduates with degrees in those fields to fill the number of new job openings. While some industries have contracted or remained stagnant during the economic downturn, science-related jobs are growing three times faster than the rate observed in the broader economy.

Although the market may be influencing some college students to change course and seek degrees in fields that will offer better employment prospects, the supply is still not enough. But there is a potential solution: immigrants. As many as 60 percent of foreign students in American universities study a scientific discipline, and lawmakers in Washington, D.C., are looking to harness their potential to help our economy. Under a proposed change to immigration law, immigrants with degrees in certain fields would be permitted to remain and work in the U.S.

Legislators from both parties in the House and Senate have cooperated to introduce a bill called Startup Act 2.0. The bill would allow foreign born students with graduate degrees in so-called STEM fields to stay here. STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Without the bill, many such students end up going back to their home countries and obtaining jobs there. Lawmakers see this as a missed opportunity. They argue that U.S. immigration policy should be attracting capable and intelligent graduates instead of sending them away only to have them compete against our businesses.

The bill also contains a few other measures designed to spur economic growth. STEM graduates should keep a close eye on the bill as more details emerge about its specific provisions.

Source: The Washington Post, "Startup Act 2.0: House lawmakers introduce Senators' immigration reform bill," J.D. Harrison, June 5, 2012.

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