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U.S. industries want more highly skilled migrants

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Two organizations that usually find themselves on the opposite sides of the fence on immigration issues such as H-1B visas have joined forces to urge United States lawmakers to ease the retention of highly skilled immigrants.

In a joint letter to key U.S. House and Senate leaders, the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers-USA (IEEE-USA) urged measures that would ease the hiring of foreign-born scientists and engineers as well as other proposals that would enhance U.S. global competitiveness in the hi-tech sector.

"While the Senate was unable to pass a comprehensive immigration package, it is critical that we address the problems created by our current outdated policies regarding highly skilled immigration," the letter opened.

Both organizations stated in the letter that highly skilled foreign talent should be able to gain permanent residence, otherwise known as "green cards", in an expedited manner, rather than having to wait five to ten years, as many do under the current immigration system.

They support legislation to attract and retain highly skilled foreign professionals with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines as permanent residents.

"The U.S. should be encouraging highly skilled talent to enter and remain in the United States in order to improve America's competitive position in the global economy. Other nations are working hard to attract this same talent to compete against U.S. companies," the letter stated.

Both organizations support legislation that would:

  • Raise the employment-based immigrant visa cap, including an exemption for foreign professionals with advanced degrees in STEM disciplines from U.S. universities
  • Create a new foreign student visa category to allow U.S. STEM bachelors or higher degree holders who have a job offer to transition directly from student visas to green cards
  • Extend post curricular optional practical training for foreign students from 12 months to 24 months to allow them to move more easily from temporary to permanent status
  • Exempt spouses and children of certain employment-based professionals from the employment-based immigrant visa cap

The letter states that 51 percent of master's and 71 percent of PhD graduates in electrical and electronic engineering disciplines from U.S. universities are foreign nationals.