The US economy — still the biggest in the world, by far — drives and thrives on innovation. But innovation, as we know, depends on the best minds in the world. No top talent, no next new thing. Put it this way: A + B = C. (Or maybe: E = MC2.)
One way we can get the talent we need is to retain those completing graduate degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (often called STEM) at world-beating US universities. Instead of going home with US degrees to work for foreign competitors, we can help them stay here and work for American companies. Or better yet, put their high-skilled expertise to use starting new companies that continue to grow our high-tech economy and create new jobs.
That’s why BSA has supported the STEM Jobs Act, introduced in the House by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) with more than 50 bipartisan co-sponsors. It would have allocated nearly 55,000 “green cards” to recent foreign Ph.D.s from American universities to remain in the United States to work or start businesses. While the STEM Jobs Act failed to gain traction during a floor vote in the House yesterday, that hardly dims the need to keep our doors open to the world’s smartest, most industrious, and most creative minds.
According to a study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, “There will be 2.4 million job vacancies for STEM workers between 2008 and 2018.” If we can’t fill those positions, the labor force or innovation vacuum could be filled elsewhere. Yet the US ranks 23rd among industrialized nations in producing STEM graduates, according to the OECD. That means we also need better domestic education policies to dramatically boost the number of college-ready high school graduates. Greater preparation in primary and secondary education will get American students ready to excel in high-skilled STEM fields of study in college and the workforce. All of this will help us compete in the decades ahead.
So the debate doesn’t end with yesterday’s vote. Other STEM bills have been introduced in both chambers of Congress and on both sides of the aisle. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) have bills that are similar to the STEM Jobs Act but differ on the question of where the 55,000 visas should come from. Lawmakers fortunately have indicated they’re willing to rally and compromise on this important area of policy. This is good news, especially in the current political environment. BSA will continue to support reform as bills wind their way through Congress because our future is at stake.
Update, September 27: BSA member Microsoft today proposed a “National Talent Strategy” in a white paper that provides a detailed analysis of America’s STEM shortage and a specific set of recommendations to address it.