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New bill to enable STEM graduates at U.S. schools to stay and look for work gains SPIE support

21 May 2012

BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA -- Proposed new legislation aimed at enabling foreign students educated in graduate programs in the United States to more easily stay and work in the country has gained the support of leaders of SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics.

The Sustaining our Most Advanced Researchers and Technology (SMART) Jobs Act of 2012, introduced this week by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) and Chris Coons (D-Delaware), would create a new visa category for students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.

The new category would enable students who declare their intent to obtain work in a STEM field to remain in the United States to look for employment for up to one year, and for an additional six months once a job has been found and an application for a green card is being processed.

"Many of the top schools in optics and photonics are in the United States, and top students from around the world compete to study here," said SPIE President Eustace Dereniak. "For many graduates, their first choice would be to stay on to work in leading labs in the U.S. However, at this time they are required to leave the country upon graduation, and must conduct their job searches from outside the U.S. before they may apply for the limited number of work visas that are made available each year."

Dereniak, a professor at the College of Optics Sciences at the University of Arizona, said many of his university's students struggle with this.

"Looking for a position from outside is a daunting, difficult, and expensive prospect for them," he said. "And the U.S. loses much of our investment in the next generation of scientists to other countries along the way. SPIE has long been an advocate for finding solutions that would permit talented new PhDs who have been trained in U.S. universities and who want to continue to work here to do so."

This flow out of the country of well-trained engineers and researchers who have been trained in the United States hampers the generation of not only innovations but the high-value jobs that come with them as well, Coons said in a statement about the bill. He noted that in the past 15 years, immigrants founded a quarter of U.S. venture-backed public companies. He cited Intel, eBay, Yahoo!, and Google as among those founded at least in part by immigrants, saying that together they account for more than 150,000 jobs.

SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. The Society serves nearly 225,000 constituents from approximately 150 countries, offering conferences, continuing education, books, journals, and a digital library in support of interdisciplinary information exchange, professional growth, and patent precedent. SPIE provided over $2.5 million in support of education and outreach programs in 2011.

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