A group of international students studying science and mathematics met with Brenda Dann-Messier, U.S. assistant secretary for vocational and adult education, last week to advocate for an immigration reform proposal that may soon come before the Senate.

Georgetown University Vice President for Federal Relations Scott Fleming (FLL ’72), who has taken part in some of the initial discussions about the reform proposal, said he organized the meeting to give students the chance to personally influence the political debate.

“Most importantly, we wanted an opportunity for these students to highlight the kinds of things they are studying and researching and what they would like to do if they were able to stay in the U.S.,” Fleming said.

The proposal, which was developed by a bipartisan group of senators known as the Gang of Eight has the potential to benefit Georgetown students seeking to either acquire citizenship or pursue careers in the sciences in the United States after graduation, and would affect the status of the Dream Act and the H1B visa program.

“The version of the Dream Act that is in this bill is one of the better versions that has existed over recent years,” Fleming said. “Before, when the legislature was trying to get it passed as a standalone measure, they had tightened it up and made it a little less generous to those who would potentially receive citizenship.”

According to Fleming, the Gang of Eight’s proposal would immediately increase the annual quota of student visas for those in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, fields, from 65,000 to 110,000. The quota would then increase by up to 10,000 each year until reaching an overall annual cap of 180,000.

Another change that would benefit some international students, Fleming said, would be the approval of what are called dual-intent visas, which would allow students to get a visa without proving that they intend to return home after they finish their studies. According to Fleming, acquiring the necessary proof can be difficult.

“If the Gang of 8 bill succeeds in passing, you would have the right to decide that you’d like to stay in the United States and not have to provide sufficient evidence of your intent to leave like you do now,” Fleming said. “And sometimes proof of that intent is not an easy proposition.”

As of now, the graduate studies program at Georgetown hosts 180 students on STEM visas. Citing both practical and financial reasons, many of the STEM students who attended last Friday’s discussion expressed their desire to stay in the country after they graduate, when their STEM visas are set to expire.

A graduate student from Benin who is studying biochemistry and molecular biology said that he would feel alienated both at home and at the workplace should he be compelled to return to his native country after Georgetown. He declined to provide his name because he did not want to hurt his chances of getting a visa.

“I do have friends over there,” the student said. “I was in the top 10 students in the entire country and I’ve gone back several times knowing that there’s no certainty that I can get an extension on my visa after graduation. Each time I’ve done this, in many ways, I was a foreigner in my own country. I don’t know what I would do there to fully actualize the benefit of what I’ve learned.”

In addition to students and faculty, attendees included Kathy Bellows, director of the Office for International Programs and Rachel Rubin, director of International Student and Scholar Services.

Although the immigration reform bill has not passed the Senate Judiciary Committee yet, Fleming said that lawmakers recognize that the timeframe they have to work on this issue could be very limited. He added that critics of the bill now have a new piece of evidence to use to their advantage in the wake of the discovery that two immigrants from Chechnya were responsible for last week’s bombings at the Boston Marathon.

“When it became clear that the two suspects were Chechen, Sen. Chuck Grassley [R-Iowa], for instance, came out and said we need to slow this process down,” Fleming said.

However, Fleming said that he remains tentatively hopeful about the bill’s future.

“The Gang of Eight have decided to stick together on the two core aspects of the bill, namely the Dream Act and STEM visa reform, and to resist amendments to those two provisions,” Fleming said.

Many of the students said that a few words spoken by professor Elliot Crooke during the meeting last Friday epitomized their viewpoint.

“Science has no borders,” Crooke said.

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