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The Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act--Motion to Proceed--Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COONS. I thank very much Senator Alexander. I cannot think of a better person to partner with, to seek advice and guidance and leadership from, on the issue of STEM immigration and education reform than Senator Alexander, a national leader on education policy. Like me, Senator Alexander is the son of a former classroom teacher, but also served as the U.S. Secretary of Education and president of a prominent university, the University of Tennessee. He knows firsthand of the challenges, of the opportunity lost when tens of thousands of foreign nationals, who come here and seek the opportunity to get STEM master's and doctoral degrees in some of our best universities, are then forced to return home to their nation of origin rather than being able to stay here, if they choose, to create jobs, grow businesses, and contribute to our country and our economy.

As someone who, before running for public office, worked with a highly motivated materials-based science company that employed over 1,000 researchers, I too have a sense of what great contributions immigrants have always made to this country, but particularly in these areas of innovation and how they can contribute to our competitiveness.

Senator Alexander's closing comments about the America Competes Act is where we start this conversation. I came to this Senate knowing that my predecessor from Delaware, Senator Kaufman, had been a strong supporter of the America Competes Act, one of the few engineers to serve in the modern Senate. I was happy to take up the cause and press for its reauthorization in the waning days of the 111th Congress.

I met with Senator Alexander last year and we talked about this as one of the most promising unfinished pieces of business in that critical report, ``Rising Above The Gathering Storm,'' and in that vital piece of legislation, the America Competes Act. As Senator Alexander had referenced, the America Competes Act was passed with strong bipartisan support. That was the sort of thing that was focused on moving America forward by identifying strong ideas that had support across the whole country and a lot of different sectors and from both parties. It is my hope this is the beginning of building a strong bipartisan coalition on moving forward on immigration reform.

Let me talk for a minute, if I could, about our history and tradition of immigrants contributing to our country, being a strong part of job creation and growth here, and in particular immigrants who come to this country to be educated in STEM disciplines--science, technology, engineering, and math.

If you think about it, for most of the last century we had some of the strongest universities in the world. For much of the last 50 years, anyone who came here from a foreign land to get a doctorate in a STEM discipline, if they chose to go home, was going home to a country that wasn't a competitive environment. The United States--because of our advances in workforce and infrastructure and our legal system, our entrepreneurial culture, our capital markets--was the world leader in innovation and competitiveness. This is no longer the case. We still have the strongest universities in the world, 35 out of the top 50, but today those 17,000 STEM doctoral and master's graduates that Senator Alexander referred to, when we force them to go home to their country of origin rather than allowing them to compete for those jobs here and contribute to the American economy, are finding open arms in nations such as India and China, which are vigorous competitors. They are providing the capital markets, the infrastructure and the workforce, the resources to take advantage of those opportunities. We need an immigration system that responds to the modern economy and the opportunities of a highly competitive modern world. Rather than hemorrhaging these highly skilled folks and having them return home, we should give them an opportunity to participate in being job creators here.

The numbers bear this out. If you take a look at the Fortune 500 companies today, more than 40 percent of them were founded by immigrants or their children. Folks who had come to this country recently from other parts of the world have established companies that employ more than 10 million people worldwide and have combined revenues of more than $4 trillion, a figure greater than the GDP of every country in the world except the United States, China, and Japan. Immigrant-founded startup companies created 450,000 jobs in the United States in the last decade, and collectively they have generated more than $50 billion in sales in a single year.

Let me give one example that has meant a lot to me. I became friends with the founder of Bloom Energy, KR Sridhar. In his native India he got his undergraduate degree, but he came to the United States to get his doctorate in mechanical engineering and then went on to be a researcher at NASA's Ames Center and made a critical invention in solid oxide fuel cells. He runs Bloom Energy, which has already created 1,000 jobs. Last week the Governor of Delaware and my senior Senator, Tom Carper, joined others at the site of a former shuttered Chrysler plant for the groundbreaking of a facility that Bloom Energy will make possible.

Why would we want a capable, bright contributor to our economy like KR to be forced to go home to his country of India, rather than welcoming him here and giving him a chance to participate, to contribute, and potentially become not just an American business leader but an American citizen? We need to make it easier for the next generation of inventors and innovators to create jobs here.

This bill, as Senator Alexander has laid out, is relatively simple. It creates a new class of visas for foreign students to pursue STEM master's and doctoral
degree programs, and allows us to continue a conversation about how do we recognize the longstanding central contribution to our economy, our culture, and our country of immigrants.

I believe there are other areas of immigration reform that have to be on the table, that we have to move forward on. I am eager to move forward on family-focused reform and on other areas as well, where I am a cosponsor of other immigration bills, but my hope is this legislation will get the attention it deserves, will get the broad support from Members of both sides of the aisle it deserves, and that it will form part of a compromise that will address the needs of all the stakeholders in immigration reform in a responsible and balanced manner.

This legislation is not the end of the road, but it is a critical step forward in making sure we continue a bipartisan, thoughtful, and constructive dialog on how do we deal with an immigration system that is broken and that doesn't make America as competitive as it could be.

If I could, I want to close by thanking Senator Alexander for his leadership, for allowing me to work with him and to produce a bill that is streamlined, that is simple, that is accessible, and that I think can contribute to making America a land that continues to welcome and celebrate the real job creators, inventors, and innovators from all parts of the world.


Mr. COONS. In closing, I will just say that the economics of this legislation are simple, but, as Senator Alexander and I recognize, any step toward immigration reform is complicated. Making it easier for foreign-born, American-educated innovators to stay in the United States is just one aspect of many of the urgently needed steps to reform our outdated immigration system.

I see that Senator Durbin has come to the floor. I am proud to cosponsor the Dream Act. I also support the Uniting American Families Act. There are other pieces of legislation that are essential to allow us to recognize and to strengthen the role immigrants play in the fabric of our country. I think this opportunity today to move forward on a bipartisan bill that focuses on this one area without caps, with a new class of immigration visa, is an important contribution to moving this discussion forward for all of us.

I thank Senator Alexander.


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