Highly Skilled Graduates Forced Out After Americans Foot Tuition Bills

An annual cap on the number of U.S. work visas issued to thousands of immigrants with advanced degrees causes many to face the possibility that they will be forced to leave the country. Kazeem Olanrewaju is one of the immigrants suffering the consequences of this rule, and is scheduled to be deported from his beloved home of Iowa this summer with a doctorate degree in chemical and biochemical engineering in hand, The Des Moines Register reported.

Olanrewaju, 38, came to the United States eight years ago with an ambition to offer his skills to a nation in desperate need of skilled workers. The Nigerian native holds an expiring student visa, and hopes to one day receive an H-1B visa. Congressional leaders and President Barack Obama have stated their concerns with immigration laws and have pledged to address policies in 2013.

Reform advocates believe that pushing graduates like Olanrewaju out of the U.S. would hurt the economy because there is already a shortage of STEM workers – those in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Olanrewaju received a full scholarship to earn his master’s and doctorate degrees at the University of Iowa, which totaled $149,500 in tuition and fees. American taxpayers paid a bulk of the costs.

“I don’t think it’s wise or makes any sense to spend that kind of money on someone, then leave them to struggle for themselves,” Olanrewaju told The Register.

Leaders at the International Society for Optics and Photonics support fast-tracking a U.S. visa legislation that would allow individuals like Olanrewaju to receive a visa. The SMART (Sustaining our Most Advanced Researchers and Technology) Jobs Act of 2012 and the STEM Jobs Act of 2012 are two bills that were designed to allocate visas for foreign born students with graduate degrees in STEM subjects.

The STEM Jobs Act was passed by the House of Representatives in November, but was halted because it would eliminate a number of visas in the diversity lottery that enable low- and high-skilled workers an opportunity to gain a visa.