But there is also debate and controversy about the effects of such a program regardless of who proposes it.
Smith raised concerns, at a hearing earlier this month on the STEM workforce, about an automatic green card policy for advance degree grads. Among his concerns is that "a visa 'pot of gold' could create an incentive for schools to aim solely to attract tuition-paying foreign students with the lure of a green card."
At the same hearing, Lindsay Lowell, director of policy studies at the Institute of International Migration, said the number of U.S. science and engineering graduates is far larger than the science and engineering workforce.
Lowell said the U.S. projects 190,000 annual science and engineering job openings due to growth and replacement needs between 2008 and 2018. Annually, between 1995 and 2007, there was an increasing number of domestic science and engineering graduates, averaging 408,000 with bachelor's degrees; 78,000 with master's degrees ; and 21,000 doctoral graduates for a total of 507,000.
Lowell told the committee that there is "little evidence that our educational pipeline produces too few domestic students able and willing to pursue a science and engineering career." A tighter labor market also induces wage gains, he said.
Also testifying was Darla Whitaker, senior vice president of worldwide human resources at Texas Instruments who testified on behalf of the Semiconductor Industry Association. She told lawmakers that companies want to recruit from the entire talent pool of graduates.
"We do not choose where those engineers were born or what their citizenship is," said Whitaker. "We choose the best, the brightest and the most creative engineering graduates," she said.
Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, said the Labrador bill "is a sledgehammer approach that will surely create many negative unintended consequences."
"Most foreign STEM advanced degree graduates can already stay through an H-1B and be sponsored permanently through an EB-1 or EB-2 visa," said Hira, referring to employment-based green cards.
An EB-1 worker is "an outstanding professor or researcher, or are a multinational executive or manager," according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. An EB-2 visa is available to someone with an "advanced degree or its equivalent," among other criteria.
There are long backlogs for EB-2s from two important source countries, India and China, Hira said. If that is the problem Labrador wants to solve, then there are cleaner ways to do so, such as adjusting the size of the allowed EB-2 visas, he said.
"Labrador's bill invites creative business models from entrepreneurial universities to sell green cards," said Hira. "The bill hasn't been vetted carefully."
Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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