Stapling Green Cards to Diplomas: Time to Make This Cliche a Law

If you think science matters, or that tech is the future, or that engineers are scarce, you should be furious with the way we treat the world's brightest immigrants

615 brin google.png

Sergey Brin wasn't born in the U.S., but the company he founded, Google, has created tens of thousands of jobs, delighted hundreds of millions of people, and made hundreds of billions of dollars (Reuters)

Last week, President Obama announced that his administration would lift the threat of deportation from more than 800,000 illegal immigrants who arrived in the United States as children and who have gone on to be productive and law-abiding residents. It was good and compassionate public policy -- even if it's a legal stretch.

But more sweeping reform is needed. The United States must stop sending away thousands of foreigners who earn advanced degrees at our universities each year and who want to stay and contribute to our economy.

The fact is that immigrant students capture an incredible share of our science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees. According to the National Science Foundation, foreigners earned over 13,000 doctorates in science and engineering in 2009 -- nearly one-third of the doctorates granted that year in that category. Foreigners earned more than half the doctorates awarded in every engineering field, computer science, physics, and economics. The story is the same for Master's degrees. Over one-quarter of Master's degrees awarded in 2009 went to foreigners -- 36,000 -- with foreigners accounting for well over one-third of degrees in many STEM fields.

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These numbers highlight two encouraging facts. The first is that the world's smartest immigrants want to learn here. We have the finest system of higher education in the world, and young people across the globe work hard for admission to a graduate program at an American university. The second is that every year we have thousands and thousands of newly-minted graduate-degree holders born overseas who can contribute to the American economy by starting businesses, creating jobs, making discoveries, and paying taxes.

Unfortunately, instead of showing those graduates their new offices and bright futures, current immigration policy shows them the door.

GO AWAY, JOB CREATORS

When their student visas expire, foreigners have to go through an onerous process to receive the right to work in the United States. Only a certain number of foreigners are granted work visas each year, and many foreigners who graduate from U.S. universities and want to stay and work in the U.S. cannot.

Research by the Technology Policy Institute finds that over 25,000 of these graduates would stay in the United States every year if they weren't forced out. That's not a very big number compared to the president's 800,000, or compared to the approximately one million immigrants in recent years who become legal permanent residents each year. We are hurting the American economy by sending off these talented graduates.

Presented by

Michael R. Strain is a research scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

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