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San Diego Union Tribune - New STEM Visa Law Could Transform U.S. Economy

Op-Ed

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Location: Washington, DC

By Representative Darrell Issa

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM -- this is the foundation of a 21st-century economy.

In the global pursuit of achievement and innovation, harnessing a workforce that masters science, technology, engineering and mathematics, is the difference between being a superpower in control of its own destiny or being ordinary and dependent on someone else for security and economic viability.

There is no substitute for being the first to do something.

Little by little, year after year, we are sacrificing our ability to be the first to do new things by actively forcing an entire generation of innovators and entrepreneurs educated in the United States to leave our country.

For years, foreign students have come to the United States seeking the benefits of the first-class, world-class higher-education systems we offer. They receive the STEM skills they need to revolutionize industries, transform economies and create an untold number of jobs.

Yet our broken visa system has exported those skills and jobs out of the United States allowing other nations to benefit from the education these students received here.

Is it any surprise why we are falling further and further behind in the race to discover and achieve?

We used to be far and away the nation that led mankind's pursuit of excellence and innovation. We did not accept barriers or boundaries. We did not believe that there was a limit to our potential. We believed the further we reached, the more we could grasp and our commitment to self-betterment fueled a technological revolution that has changed the way we live our daily lives.

This is not the time to become content. We cannot afford to sit idly by as other nations surpass us. We cannot afford to be merely a training ground for our competitors to simply poach our talent while we cling to artificial and arcane barriers that limit our ability to prosper and grow.

This isn't a Republican or Democrat problem, it's an American problem.

President Obama said recently, "The business community continues to be concerned about getting enough high-skill workers, and I am a believer that if you've got a Ph.D. in physics or computer science who wants to stay here and start a business here, we shouldn't make it harder for him to stay here; we should try to encourage him to contribute to this society."

On this we are in total agreement.

A 2011 Kauffman Foundation study found almost one in four American high-technology firms founded between 1995 and 2005 have had at least one immigrant founder. These are the same companies that have gone on to create thousands of jobs in America and California. At a time when we are desperately trying to create jobs, can we really afford to turn away the very people who if given the chance to stay in the place they received their education could launch the next enterprise that redefines our global economy?

Making more STEM visas available to highly trained students is a win-win for job creators and our economy. Last Congress, I introduced the Visas for Investors and STEM Students Act (VISSA) to reform the Diversity Visa Lottery Program by reallocating 55,000 visas to be directed to students with a graduate degree or Ph.D. in a STEM field.

Unfortunately, in the run-up to a contentious election, the political will didn't exist from Republicans or Democrats to take action, even in the face of a sluggish economy.

Now the election is behind us and the one thing that the American people made very clear is that they want action, not gridlock. Kicking the can down the road is no longer a substitute for governing. The American people want action, not excuses.

At this very moment, there is a student at a school like UCSD who is about to seize upon an idea. This idea could give birth to a new economy that redefines a nation's identity and alters its economic future. Whether that next revolution happens in the United States or somewhere else is our decision to make. We must invest in the students of today if we are to cement our place as a global leader in tomorrow's economy.

The reality is it is always others who profit from what is carelessly left behind. At the end of the day, this is a conversation about self-interest. Keeping these students and their potential here, in the United States, means we keep the jobs they create, the industries they give birth to and the future of unimaginable possibility they build.

Issa, R-Vista, represents the 49th Congressional District and is chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.


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