Legislation to Exempt Advanced STEM Degree Holders From Numerical Limits Introduced to U.S. Senate

Legislation to Exempt Advanced STEM Degree Holders
October 23, 2022

The Senate has reviewed legislation permitting more international students with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The measure, which has received support from the Pentagon, would reduce the hurdles to earning a green card for those with advanced degrees in STEM fields.

Senators are looking to the upcoming debate regarding the National Defense Authorization Act as an opportunity to pass the measure into law. The amendment to the Act would permit foreign national graduates of American universities to receive an exemption from the regular annual limits on the number of green cards issued. However, applicants must receive a conditional offer of employment from an employer in the US to participate in the program. Furthermore, the opportunity must be in a field related to their degree.

Senator Richard Durbin, who introduced the amendment, stated, “America should always focus on maintaining a strong STEM workforce because it strengthens our economy and enhances our ability to compete on the world stage.” In addition, several national security officials have lobbied to favor the idea. These officials pointed to the lack of STEM workers for national defense positions supporting the amendment. In addition, these officials point to the fact that nearly two-thirds of graduate students in artificial intelligence and semiconductor-related fields were born abroad.

Current immigration laws have employment-based green cards unavailable to applicants from countries who have reached their numerical limit. This restriction means applicants from countries with high demand, such as China and India, often face decades-long waits to receive permanent resident status. According to a report from the Congressional Research Service, almost one million foreign national workers and their families have been approved for and are currently awaiting permanent resident status.

Unfortunately, this backlog remains high despite enormous commercial demand for these workers in many industries, from developing medical equipment to technology and defense technologies. Similar legislation to exempt STEM advanced degree holders from numerical limits was proposed before the House earlier this year and failed to pass. However, proponents of the bill have higher hopes this time around.

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