Arkansas Republican Rep. Tim Griffin is working on a bill to keep more foreign-born advanced degree holders in the United States, he said this morning at the center-right American Enterprise Institute.
"We've got teams and other countries have teams," Griffin said, comparing the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—to football. "Right now, we are going to their countries; we're finding the best athletes; we're bringing them to our team. We're training them, we're making them awesome, and sending them back to beat us," he said. "We've got to stop that."
He said that 55 percent of electrical engineering master's degrees awarded in the United States go to foreign-born graduates, the same with 63 percent of similar Ph.D.s. Griffin explained that he thinks it's great that people are drawn to the excellent universities in the United States, but since U.S. companies have trouble filling technical jobs with American citizens, he thinks it is important to make it easier for talented foreigners to stick around.
"Once they graduate," Griffin added, "we say, 'We've equipped you to compete with us, now go back to China and India and beat us.'"
Highly skilled foreign workers are key to keeping the United States competitive since they often start their own businesses and create new jobs, according to Griffin, who cited an example of a company in his district that makes giant pipe for the potential Keystone oil pipeline, and which is run by an Indian immigrant. "The way they make pipe is a very high-tech process," he said, "and they need STEM grads."
Griffin and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith are still working out the details, but the bill, called the BRAIN Act, Bringing and Retaining Accomplished Innovators for our Nation, would put on track for green cards those legal immigrants who graduate with a master's or Ph.D. from an accredited U.S. university and secure a STEM-related job.
"We were going to call it NERDS, New Employees for Research and Development in STEM," he said, to laughs from the audience. "We decided against that."
It's unclear whether the bill would make new green cards available or simply adjust the allocation of currently available green cards to provide more to STEM graduates and less to those emigrating for other reasons, like family reunification.
Griffin added he had wanted to introduce the bill today, but it's not quite ready.
"We want to cross our T's and dot our I's," he said. "We just want to make sure when we roll this out that we've done our homework."
He explained the research is vital since he wants a bill that can pass rather than just make a political statement, and he expects the legislation will be ready before the end of January.
"But," he joked, referring to the current payroll tax and budget battles delaying Congress's holiday, "if we stay in session long enough, I still may get it done by the end of the year."