Rep. Flake re-introduces bill to 'staple' green cards to Ph.D. diplomas

Bill aims to keep top foreign graduates of U.S. universities in the country

WASHINGTON - U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, has re-introduced legislation that would offer permanent residency to any U.S. university student who graduates with a Ph.D. in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

Flake introduced his bill the same week that President Barack Obama said, in his State of the Union speech, that the U.S. should make it easier for top foreign university graduates to remain here. Too often, Obama said, "we send them back to [to other countres] to compete against us. It makes no sense," Obama said.

Flake's bill would exempt qualifying foreign university graduates from H-1B cap limitations, as well as make them eligible for permanent residency. First introduced in 2009, the legislation is called the Staple Act, after the argument that Ph.D. graduates should have a Green Card "stapled" onto their diploma.

"Unless we want to see the next Google or Intel created overseas, we've got to enact legal immigration reforms that allow foreign-born, U.S.-educated students who have earned advanced degrees to remain and work in the country after they've graduated," Flake said in a statement.

Obama opened the door to H-1B reform and Green Card reform in his State of Union speech, and his administration continued the call for reform this week by posting on the White House Web site statements from industry and academic groups that have long advocated raising the H-1B cap.

The U.S. sets aside 20,000 H-1B visas for foreigner students holding advanced degrees from U.S. universities. That cap was reached last week. There are 2,200 H-1B openings left under the overall cap of 65,000.

Graduates do not need an H-1B visa to begin working. They can work in the U.S. for up to 29 months without a work visa under a rule approved in the last year of the George W. Bush administration.

Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, said Obama's speech "was parroting the false talking point, promulgated by industry and university lobbyists, that US policy is kicking foreign graduates with advanced degrees out of the country immediately after they graduate."

Hira said the real problem for some of them is staying permanently in the US.

Hira that as the recent GAO report found, the H-1B cap poses little problem for American companies and few of those companies say that they will move operations overseas because of the cap. There are plenty of work-arounds, he said.

"The real constraint is the Green Card bottleneck and that guest workers cannot self-sponsor - they are dependent on employer sponsorship for permanent residence," said Hira.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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