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Congress needs to stop flow of STEM jobs out of the country, but not at the expense of diversity, say SPIE leaders

07 January 2013

BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA -- Leaders of SPIE , the international society for optics and photonics, are urging Congress to pass new legislation fast-tracking and increasing the number of visas granted to high-skilled immigrants -- without undermining current programs that support immigration diversity.

"Retaining highly skilled and well-educated workers is imperative to continued technology competitiveness and economic growth," said Robert Lieberman, chair of the SPIE committee on Engineering Science and Technology Policy. "The issue is of prime importance to maintaining a global leadership position, and needs to be solved independently of other immigration policies."

There are currently several bills proposing new support for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) jobs before Congress:

  • SMART (Sustaining our Most Advanced Researchers and Technology) Jobs Act of 2012, introduced by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) and Chris Coons (D-Delaware), would create a new visa category for students in STEM fields, enabling 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.
  • The STEM Jobs Act of 2012, introduced by House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), reallocates the 55,000 visas designated under the Diversity Immigrant Visa program for immigrants from underrepresented nations to foreign-born students with graduate STEM degrees earned at American universities.
  • The IDEA (Immigration Driving Entrepreneurship in America) Act of 2011 introduced by Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-California) would add visas for high-tech workers without decreasing those allocated in the diversity program.

"STEM-educated graduates are vital for innovation in both the private and public sector; they will build the future of this country." Lieberman said. "Helping these highly educated, highly motivated people achieve permanent legal status via an expedited and straightforward process will allow the U.S. to capitalize on the investment it has already made in them.  Their contributions to society will create new jobs, and even whole new industries, improving our lives and expanding the economy."

"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," SPIE Immediate Past President Eustace Dereniak, a professor in the College of Optics at the University of Arizona. Each June, approximately 17,000 masters and doctoral students graduate from U.S. universities and return to their home countries, denying the United States access to their innovative, job-creating potential, he said.

Looking at the numbers, Lieberman noted that

  • More than 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children, including companies such as Intel, eBay, Yahoo!, and Google.
  • Immigrant-founded start-up companies created 450,000 jobs in less than a decade, and collectively they have generated as much as $52 billion in sales in a single year.
  • U.S. Patent Office data shows that 41% of the patents filed by the U.S. government had foreign-born inventors or co-inventors. Foreign-born inventors are behind 72% of Qualcomm's patents, 65% of Merck's, and 64% of General Electric's.

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 $3.3 million in support of education and outreach programs in 2012.

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Media contact:
Amy Nelson
Public Relations Manager, SPIE
+1 360 685 5478
amy@spie.org
@SPIEtweets