The House of Representatives passed a bill Nov. 30 that would grant green cards to graduates of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, also known as STEM, masters and doctorate programs.
The STEM Jobs Act reallocates 55,000 visas from the Diversity Visa program that served people from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.
While the measure did not make it past the House when it was originally proposed in September, the most recent attempt garnered support from both Democrats and Republicans.
The legislation, however, is not expected to be debated in the Senate until the new Congress forms early next year because of the debate surrounding the fiscal cliff.
Among math and sciences at Georgetown, a significant number of graduate students are foreign.
In the mathematics and statistics department, about 20 out of 80 students are international while approximately half of the chemistry department’s 70 doctoral candidates are from other countries.
Professors in STEM fields have mixed opinions about the legislation.
YuYe Tong, head of the chemistry department, said that the bill failed to address the difficulties of the visa application process itself. According to Tong, graduates can apply for an EB-2 visa that guarantees permanent residency to those who have employment offers, but he said that the process is time consuming. In addition, the company-sponsored H-1B visa has a quota and is rendered void once the worker quits or is fired.
Ken Shaw, director of graduate studies for mathematics and statistics, agreed that the sponsorship portion of the visa is a problem for STEM students.
“Nearly all [of] the international students want to stay in the U.S. and find permanent employment. And nearly all seem to have some trouble finding a position that will sponsor them for residency,” he wrote in an email. “Persistence pays off but many have to return to their home countries.”
Although Shaw wrote that the bill would help many math and statistics graduates get jobs in fields that typically require citizenship, Tong said that providing visas would leave a surplus of scientists.
“You don’t want to keep those people who can’t find jobs so what I would say is that you should automatically give people green cards if they can find a job,” Tong said.
Other professors, however, say that not all graduates want to stay in the U.S.
“The times have changed now: a lot of students come now and return to their home countries,” saidMakarand Paranjape, co-director of graduate studies in the physics department. “A lot of the students from China have a desire to learn here and return to China. It’s not necessarily true now that they flock to the U.S. because it’s the land of opportunity, because they have chances in their home countries.”
He stressed that the government must weigh the costs and benefits of the visa allocation system.
“You’ve got to be wary about how the green cards would be allotted, if they’re going to be add- on, additional or if they’re going to be taken away from other places,” he said.