"Staple a green card to every foreign STEM grad's diploma!" say the politicians and lobbyists. But the real question is, which foreign STEM graduates should get green cards?
Foreign students getting bachelor's degrees most certainly shouldn't, because that level of achievement is hardly special. Even the tech companies pushing for the "staple" legislation don't want that; Texas Instruments's human resources director testified before Congress last year that her firm doesn't sponsor foreign students with bachelor's degrees because there are plenty of Americans to choose from. In fact, there were in 2010 1.8 million Americans with engineering bachelor's degrees who were not working in engineering. And that's not all STEM fields—just engineering.
At the other end of the education spread are the relatively modest number of foreign Ph.D. recipients—and they mostly stay already, making new legislation redundant. A report earlier this year found that nearly two thirds of foreign students who received a science-related Ph.D. in 2004 were still here in 2009. And the figures for India and China, the top countries, were 79 percent and 89 percent, respectively. The percentage taking advantage of a green-card giveaway would probably not be much higher; believe it or not, some foreign students actually want to return to their native lands.
It's those in the middle who the debate is focused on—foreign master's degree recipients. Their skill level is higher than that of bachelor's degree holders, while their numbers are sufficiently large that they can be used by employers to hold down wages. And the current number of foreign master's degree recipients is nothing compared to what we'd see if a "staple" bill were passed; the Brookings Institution has warned that such legislation would result in "inducing the enrollment of poor-quality foreign students in U.S. higher education institutions simply to obtain green cards."
A green-cards-for-grads bill that was limited to Ph.D. recipients in hard sciences would do little harm and maybe even some good, in streamlining the immigration process for people who are staying anyway. But broadening the benefit to master's degree holders would be just another cheap-labor program for industry.
About Mark Krikorian Author of 'The New Case Against Immigration, Both Legal and Illegal' and 'How Obama is Transforming America Through Immigration'
Tamar Jacoby President of ImmigrationWorks USA
Daniel Stein President of Federation for American Immigration Reform
Ron Hira Co-author of 'Outsourcing America'
Norm Matloff Professor at University of California, Davis