Legislation Would Create Visas for Undocumented Students in STEM Fields

On December 13, U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, introduced a bill to encourage more students to study science, technology, engineering and math at U.S. universities, and to make it easier for international students to work in the United States after earning degrees in these fields.

Bennet’s bill would foster more enrollment in STEM fields by allowing certain undocumented residents of the United States to obtain a special type of temporary student visa to enroll in STEM programs.

The bill also would create a new type of green card for international students who graduate with STEM degrees.

“This legislation will address a long known problem for American higher education – why force our best and brightest students, those whom we have invested in so significantly, to leave just as they are best positioned to contribute to our society?” said Noah Finkelstein, director of STEM education and a professor of physics at the University of Colorado-Boulder. “U.S. science and technology, and our society more broadly, would not be the great successes they are today if it were not for the innovations, contributions and investment by foreign students who came to this country to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

According to information distributed by Bennet’s office, between one-half and two-thirds of 2009 Ph.D.s in technical fields went to international students, and more than 40 percent of the 2010 Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children.

Bennet’s bill also provides for certain changes to the H1-B and L visa systems, to ensure that U.S. citizen STEM workers are not displaced by those from overseas.

A similar “green cards for grads” bill was introduced in the House of Representatives in June by Representative Zoe Lofgren of California. According to Lofgren’s office, immigrants founded or co-founded more than 52 percent of Silicon Valley startups.