I am writing to request that you include in any comprehensive immigration reform package an effort to promote Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education at American colleges and universities, particularly those with significant minority populations. Fixing our immigration system is important, and it is equally as important for us to invest in our educational system to ensure that our newest citizens are educated and trained in the STEM fields to take on the challenges of the 21st century economy.
The H-1B Visa Program allows U.S. companies to employ skilled foreign workers in specialty occupations, particularly in the STEM fields. Science and Technology companies have argued that this visa is important for the U.S. economy because there are not enough Americans with the necessary skills to fill these jobs. This is a problem and one that we should be taking immediate action to fix. Increasing and using the fees that companies pay for H-1B Visas to educate and train Americans in STEM would address that concern over time by providing valuable skills to American and immigrant students to help them succeed. The funds could be used both to create scholarships for low-income, minority students who are pursuing STEM degrees and to provide funding for STEM programs at American colleges and universities that serve minority students.
There are colleges and universities across our nation, including several in the 1st District in Nevada, that are working hard to attract students to the STEM fields. Earlier this year, the College of Southern Nevada hosted approximately 3,000 K-12 Nevada students at their annual Science & Technology Expo to get local students from all backgrounds excited about careers in the STEM fields before they enter college. In January, the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) hosted a STEM summit to feature student research and work in the STEM fields. UNLV works specifically to recruit and train women, minorities, and individuals from all cultures to the STEM fields. These are significant and important efforts, but our colleges and universities need our help to expand and improve STEM outreach and training.
It is vital that we help American and immigrant students thrive in the STEM fields because it opens the door to interesting, well-paid jobs while strengthening our country and our economy. This is particularly critical for minority students who are significantly underrepresented in these fields. According to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2009 American Community Survey, only 12 percent STEM workers in the U.S. are African American or Hispanic. This is occurring despite the fact that minority students express the same desires to pursue STEM careers as their white peers. I am proud to represent considerable minority populations and often hear of their desire to work in these innovative fields.
We can and should do better. A strong STEM workforce is important to America's innovation and competitiveness. Science and technology companies are paying our government to bring foreign workers to the U.S. to fill STEM jobs. Why not use these funds to train Americans to have the skills to fill these jobs in the future? Providing scholarships to STEM students and granting funding to colleges and universities to improve STEM programs would strengthen our educational system, our economy, and our position as a global leader in science and technology.
Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to working with you on this important matter.