Why We Need More STEM Graduates

On October 28, a week before the presidential election, the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard introduced a white paper that lays out a comprehensive plan for Australia to attract qualified Asian immigrants. Australia’s Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen, said that Australia needed to attract highly skilled Asian immigrants to bring their specialist skills to Australia in order to boost the economy. He said the top 10 sources of highly skilled immigrants in Australia were India, which provided 23% of its immigrants in 2011; as well as China, the Philippines  Sri Lanka, Malaysia, South Korea and Vietnam. Australia intends to increase the number of international students in Australian universities by streamlining the immigration process.

Similar white papers have been issued by Canada, which has now made pathways for skilled immigrants and investors to migrate to Canada easier. UK has similar plans, and the UK Border Agency revised its guidance last June for skilled workers and investors.

In the US, foreign students contribute, according to various sources, an upwards of $21 billion to our economy — no small chump change. It is good business for the US economy that we continue to encourage and seek foreign students, and to streamline the process for them to emigrate to the US. That process begins at the consulate, where the welcome mat is laid out for foreign students. I have often had the displeasure of informing highly skilled foreigners completing PhDs and Fellowships that it could take them almost 10 years to obtain their greencards. So it is with pleasure, after this election, that I read that both political parties are willing to exchange and compromise on comprehensive immigration reform that includes good news for STEM graduates and other highly skilled workers who want to come to the US.

The US’s Position

Two-thirds of the US’s immigration is family-based, while the other third is employment-based. This is in stark contrast to Canada, where employment immigration is the major contributor to the Canadian population. The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has implored various national leaders and prominent politicians to continue immigration reform. Such politicians include pragmatists like Lindsey Graham, Chuck Schumer and John Boehner; but excludes Chuck Grassley and Mitch McConnell, who have spoken against immigration reform in the past.

The US proportion of graduating students who attend college in the US is slated to fall to 17.8% by 2020 from 23.8% in 2000, while the share of China will rise 9-13% and India will rise 6.5-7.5%. The implication of this is that India and China will have larger populations of college graduates than the US. The US needs an educated population to remain globally competitive. China has made investments in its workforce, which is the core of its economic strategy; and in India, a culture of higher education propels young people to go beyond the undergraduate level and attain Masters and PhDs.

A Global Force

If the US does not encourage more educated and productive people to enter and remain in the US legally (this includes engineers, doctors, lawyers, teachers as well as lower-skilled workers) we will lose the race in global competition. A recent report from Organization for Economic Co-Operation Development (OECD)’s states that, “the balance of economic power could shift dramatically over the next 50 years.” According to this report, China could become the world’s largest economy by 2016.

To ensure long-term increase in productivity, living standards and higher income per capita, the US needs a qualified population. One of the pathways to economic growth is either locally qualified workers or imported workers. According to the Wall Street Journal, citing a recent Deloitte consulting survey, there are about 600,000 US manufacturing jobs going unfilled during a period of high unemployment due to “workforce shortages or skills deficiencies in production positions such as machinists, craft workers and technicians.”  US manufacturers have gotten out of the habit of running in-house apprentice programs; therefore, US manufacturers require ready-made “plug-and-play” workers to fill these deficiencies. We can either use homegrown workers, or “plug-and-play” workers through immigration.

It is an economic necessity, and it in our best interests, to reform our immigration policies — our country must move forward and remain a global force. We need workers both at the high levels, as well as the lower levels, to fill labor-intensive jobs and to reverse brain drain. We need workers who are qualified now.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney
Lowenbaum Partnership, LLC
St. Louis, Missouri

The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Tara Mahadevan

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.

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