The Struggle Over STEM Immigration


Nalini Mahadevan

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates are foreign-born students who have obtained graduate degrees from American universities in one of these four fields. Many of these students are vying for a green card to stay in the US; but the demand for green cards far outstripped supply. The result is that the best and the brightest are leaving the US for greener immigration pastures: either going back home, or to other more 'immigrant' friendly countries, like Canada.

In a previous blog post, I discussed how STEM graduates will help the US come out of its recession. We are currently experiencing a brain drain; and in order to remain a global force, we must reform our immigration policies. Multiple bills suggesting an increase in green cards for STEM graduates have been proposed to Congress, but none have yet to pass.

STEM Jobs Act

On Friday, November 30, 2012, the House passed the STEM Jobs Act, which reallocates 55,000 green cards per year to students with STEM degrees; the new act also seeks to remove the lottery green card program. Green cards are first made available to STEM graduates with PhDs -- remaining green cards are then given to STEM graduates with Masters.

Dueling Bills

We must applaud both political parties for their sensitivity to the issue of STEM jobs, but there is a very obvious political divide. While the Republican initiative moves to abolish the 55,000 diversity visas, the Democrats want to preserve these visas for persons from under-represented countries.

This uncertainty is keeping employers from hiring qualified candidates, and keeping qualified US graduates from remaining in the US. Keep in mind, by most accounts, the education industry is a $27 billion industry with a multiplier effect on local economies.

What can we do?

Employers and Universities must lobby their Senate and House Representatives about the issue. The inaction is holding our economy hostage.

About The Author

Nalini Mahadevan is an attorney with The Lowenbaum Partnership, LLC in St. Louis, Missouri. She heads the immigration practice area. She is an adjunct professor at Saint Louis University School of Law, speaker and author. She can be reached at

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) alone and should not be imputed to ILW.COM.