Bennet Bill Would Reform Outdated Visa Program, Prepare American Workforce for Jobs of Tomorrow

Plan Would Help Drive Economic Growth, Entrepreneurship and Create Jobs at Home

Creates New Category of Visas for STEM Graduates to retain international STEM talent in the U.S. economy

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today introduced a bill to reform our outdated visa system to drive economic growth, inspire entrepreneurship and create jobs right here at home.

“We are facing a shortage of workers in high-tech jobs, and more and more of our STEM degrees go to foreign students who leave the United States to work,” said Bennet. “It only makes sense to keep international talent in our economy and encourage American students to enter STEM fields. This plan addresses these problems through a comprehensive approach with an eye toward long-term workforce development, economic growth and job creation.”

The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Visa Act of 2011 would create a new category of visas for students graduating with advanced degrees in specialties in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).  It would help fill Colorado’s increasing number of STEM-related jobs by keeping graduates of American universities working in the United States and by encouraging American students to study STEM fields.


STEM visa act video

“Demand in the USA for engineering and scientists is strong and will continue to grow with the upcoming retirement of many baby boomers,” said Ralph Christie, chair and CEO of Merrick & Company in Aurora. “Senator Bennet's proposal of a pathway to more visas can be one approach to providing additional engineering and scientific human resource talent in a time when it is needed for our country.”

“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 Integrating STEM Education and associate professor in the Department 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.”

“As a foreign graduate student in the USA, I have found the student visa and immigration regulations very convoluted and laborious,” said Waqas A. Qazi, graduate student in Aerospace Engineering Sciences at the University of Colorado-Boulder. “I personally know of many intelligent young engineering and science students from my country who were, at one point in time, very interested to come to the USA for graduate study and work. However, the majority of them were unable to attend graduate school in the United States, primarily because of the non-supportive visa and immigration laws. This legislation will offer a way forward for young engineers like myself to study in the U.S., and, one day, work here and contribute to the economy.”

In 2009, between one-half and two-thirds of all Ph.Ds awarded by U.S. universities in physics, economics, computer science, chemicals and other highly technical fields were earned by international students. The United States loses many of these individuals – some of the world’s brightest – due to inflexible and outdated immigration policies that are not meeting the needs of our economy.

More than 40 percent of the 2010 Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. These companies employ more than 3.6 million people nationally and generate more than $4.2 trillion in revenue annually. There will be hundreds of thousands of STEM-related job vacancies in Colorado alone over the next decade, and those jobs have the potential to generate millions of dollars for our economy.

Bennet introduced this bill to help strengthen our economy and make long-term investments in our workforce. Specifically, the STEM Visa Act would:

  • Create a new green card category for foreign students graduating American colleges and universities with advanced degrees in STEM.
  • Establish a new fund through visa fees that will improve STEM education for American students. These investments will be made in:
    • STEM scholarships for low-income students;
    • A matching grant program for K-12 STEM education;
    • A competitive STEM grant program for minority serving universities and colleges; and
    • STEM job training for former military personnel and unemployed workers.
  • Permit eligible undocumented students enrolled full time in a STEM field of a U.S. institution of higher education to apply for temporary student visas. This provision will allow upstanding young people – also eligible under the DREAM Act – to come out of the shadows and contribute to our economy and communities.
  • Cut red tape in the administration of visas to make it less costly and timelier for employers.
  • Make commonsense reforms to H1-B and L visas to protect American workers by preventing wages from being undercut, requiring that employers hire American workers first, and prohibiting the displacement of American workers with foreign workers.
  • Simplify the EB-5 program for foreign investors to attract additional investment and create additional jobs for Americans.