Rethinking immigration policies for STEM Ph.D.’s

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While U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have supported policies aimed at retaining top U.S.-trained scientists and engineers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, Michael Roach and John Skrentny argue that current immigration policies make the path to permanent residency for foreign-born Ph.D.’s complicated and uncertain. Using data from a survey that followed 1,597 U.S. citizen and foreign-born science and engineering Ph.D.’s from U.S. research universities into their first industry jobs, Roach and Skrentny show that the highly controversial H-1B visa has become the first step many newly minted foreign doctorates follow to obtain permanent residency. While the H-1B is a “non-immigrant” temporary visa and was designed to fill short-term labor shortages by entry-level workers, the authors found that it’s used by nearly two-thirds of foreign Ph.D.’s as a first step to permanent residency. And not because it’s the required or the most suitable visa for obtaining a green card – but because of inefficiencies and delays in the alternatives available to Ph.D.’s seeking residency. Roach and Skrentny highlight the limitations of the H-1B and the need to streamline the path from doctorate to permanent resident and offer several suggestions for visa reforms tailored to foreign-born Ph.D.’s. “Our findings align with the proposed immigration policies of the President-elect Biden, who within his first 100 days intends to implement a program that would provide recent STEM doctorates from U.S. universities with a green card that is exempt from national quotas,” write Roach and Skrentny.

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http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.abe7151

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