Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement Oversight Hearing on "STEM the Tide: Should America Try to Prevent an Exodus of Foreign Graduates of U.S. Universities with Advanced Science Degrees?"

Statement

By:  Elton Gallegly
Date: Oct. 5, 2011
Location: Washington, DC

Good afternoon. America has many of the finest universities in the world. Talented students from around the globe seek to come here to pursue their studies. The State Department issued an all-time high of over 400,000 new student visas in 2010. Foreign students can enrich our universities and, after they graduate, many stay here as workers to help American businesses grow.

Among the cream of the crop are those foreign students who receive advanced degrees in what are known as STEM fields -- science, technology, engineering and math. One of our witnesses today, Darla Whitaker of Texas Instruments, will testify as to how these foreign STEM graduates keep American companies on the cutting edge.

They can also give America a competitive advantage. A number of studies have found a remarkable level of entrepreneurship among immigrant scientists and engineers.

When foreign STEM students graduate, many want to stay in the U.S., at least temporarily. However, according to a survey by Vivek Wadhwa, who will be testifying today, most students who would like to stay are concerned about finding jobs in the U.S. and obtaining work visas.

Their anxiety is surely due to our depressed economy, the shortage of H-1B visas during boom times and the waiting lists for employment-based green cards, which seem to grow during good times and bad.

This issue raises some important questions, including: Should we desire that all these foreign graduates remain in the U.S.? Should we encourage them to stay by enacting visa reform? These are the subjects of today's hearing.

Mr. Wadhwa worries that "the departure of these foreign [graduates] could represent a significant loss for the U.S. science and engineering workforce, in which such immigrants have played increasingly larger roles over the past three decades."

However, one thing we have to keep in mind is how American students are impacted by our immigration policies. Another of our witnesses today, Lindsay Lowell, worries that "depressed wages and discouraged workers result if supply outstrips demand." He writes that "highly qualified [American] students may be choosing a non-STEM job because it pays better [and] offers a more stable professional career …."

And, another of today's witnesses, Barmak Nassirian, worries that a "systemic threat to academic integrity has emerged in the form of questionable schools that have managed to establish eligibility for participation in federal student aid as collegiate institutions."

Could such schools take advantage of any decision by Congress to increase the availability of visas to foreign students graduating with STEM degrees?

I look forward to hearing our witnesses' diverse and valuable perspectives at today's hearing.