Congress Pressed to Ease Immigration Policy for International Tech Talent

Congress Pressed to Ease Immigration Policy for International Tech Talent michael chertoff speaks during the 2019 concordia annual summit in 2019  Michael Chertoff (Riccardo Savi/Getty Images for Concordia Summit)

By Brian Freeman | Monday, 09 May 2022 11:51 AM

In an attempt to ensure that American science and tech leadership is maintained over China, some 50 former national security leaders sent Congress a letter on Monday urging an exemption from green-card caps for advanced technical degree holders worldwide.

"American leadership in technology, a cornerstone of competitiveness, rests in large part on our ability to leverage domestic and international talent," according to the letter, whose signatories include former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, former Secretary of Energy Steve Chu and former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security Kari Bingen.

The letter emphasized that "China is the most significant technological and geopolitical competitor our country has faced in recent times. With the world’s best STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] talent on its side, it will be very hard for America to lose. Without it, it will be very hard for America to win."

Current immigration law limits the number of green cards issued per nation, and people from populous countries are disproportionately affected, according to Axios, which pointed out that there are signs that there could be bipartisan support on this topic due to widespread concern about China, despite the usually politically charged issue of immigration policy.

The Bipartisan Innovation Act Conference Committee is expected soon to attempt to reconcile the House and Senate bills passed last year, which seek to boost funds to the National Science Foundation and other federal research agencies, as well as incentivize high-tech firms, especially those that manufacture semiconductors, to construct facilities in the U.S.

Several Republican senators, including Ohio's Rob Portman and Texas' John Cornyn, have expressed openness to the idea of keeping the green-card provision in the final legislation.

Remco Zwetsloot, who researches STEM immigration and U.S.-China technological competitiveness at CSIS, told Axios that this is so because "people are recognizing very critical national security goals can’t be achieved unless international STEM talent has a way to come and stay in the U.S."

The stay rates among international STEM doctoral degree recipients were high a few years ago, but Trump administration policies during the pandemic tightened the immigration system, and the rhetoric against foreigners make many, especially Asians, feel unwelcome, Axios reported

A Boston Consulting Group report last year said that this trend, combined with Ottawa’s skilled immigration program, led Canada to replace the U.S. as the top destination for workers.

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