House Judiciary Committee members are putting the finishing touches on a proposal to help immigrants with advanced degrees in math and science secure the right to live and work permanently in the United States.
During a speech Thursday in Washington, Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.) outlined the BRAIN Act, short for Bringing and Retaining Accomplished Innovators for the Nation, which he expects to introduce either later this week or when Congress reconvenes in January. While the House Judiciary Committee is still hammering out specific details, the bill would essentially help secure green cards for foreigners who earn advanced degrees from accredited American universities and find employment opportunities in the fields of science, technology, engineering or math.
“We are almost done, and we had hoped to introduce the bill this week” Griffin said during his speech on immigration reform. “But basically, if you’re here legally on a student visa, you get an advanced degree from an accredited university here in the United States, and you’re able to secure employment in the STEM fields, then we will put you on track to get a green card.”
Lawmakers are still debating which advanced degrees to include in the proposal, though Griffin expressed confidence that the bill will include immigrants with master’s degrees, not just those with Ph.Ds. He also said the committee planned to reshuffle existing green card allocations, rather than expand the number of green cards awarded by the United States, but had not yet determined exactly how many green cards to offer through the proposal and from exactly where to reallocate those slots.
The congressman also joked that the committee had contemplated another name — the NERDS Act (New Employees for Research & Development and STEM) — but had settled on the BRAIN Act instead.
Griffin emphasized that such legislation is essential to help the country bridge the gap between a growing number of STEM jobs available in the United States and a lagging number of Americans with advanced training in those fields. Americans, he said, should also understand that these foreign workers are not taking jobs from United States citizens, but rather filling positions for which the country doesn’t have enough adequately trained workers.
“Over the long term, we may be able to change the culture of our country to encourage more people to go into those fields, and that would be great,” he said. “But in the short and medium term there is no way we can fill the void for these sort of grads.”
New research released Thursday reiterates that such immigration reform measures would not drain jobs that would otherwise be filled by Americans — in fact, quite the opposite. During a presentation following the congressman’s remarks, Madeline Zavodny, an economics professor at Agnes Scott College in Georgia, showed that an increase of 10 immigrants with advanced degrees yields a 0.8 percent increase in employment among United States natives.
That means for every 100 immigrants with advanced degrees that work in the United States, researchers see an additional 44 jobs for U.S. natives. Narrowed down even further, an additional 100 immigrants with advanced degrees in STEM fields from American universities is associated with 262 additional jobs for Americans.
The same report also indicated that immigrants with advanced degrees pay far more in taxes than they receive in government benefits.
However, under current immigration rules that Griffin called “puzzling,” the United States continues to send many of those skilled workers back to their home countries.
“Particularly this time of year, I talk in football analogies,” the congressman said. “We’ve got a team and other countries have teams, and right now, we are going into other countries, we’re finding their best athletes, we’re bringing them here, training them and making them awesome, then sending them back to beat us. We have to stop that.”
Question: Should Congress make it easier for highly educated immigrants to secure green cards? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.