Shetty: STEM immigration is essential to America’s future 
An aerial image of a part of the city of Santa Clara. Photo by The 111th Group.

    From 2010 to 2019, 42% of the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) PhD graduates from U.S. universities were international students. Working in America has always been seen as fertile ground for new career growth and bountiful opportunity. As someone who grew up in Malaysia, I can attest to the reputation the U.S. has overseas.

    Unfortunately, this reputation is in danger. Countries like China are taking the mantle from us, with the number of STEM graduates each year surpassing ours back in the mid-2000s. As of 2019, PhDs in STEM fields from Chinese universities outnumbered U.S. universities by 49,498 to 33,759. However, the Bipartisan Innovation Act has the potential to return this country to its former standing as the world’s leader in developing technologies and scientific breakthroughs.

    Some of the best students I know, my dear friends, aspired to venture out to the U.S. with the hopes of starting their own businesses in a country where innovation and technology seemed to flourish. I came here to study computer science, and now I’m happy to say I’m employed right here in Silicon Valley. It has been a dream to contribute to this field with the work we are doing. I know it would’ve turned out very differently had I been stuck on a decade-long waitlist before I even had the chance to apply myself.

    Employing immigrant STEM workers has bolstered the workforce of this country in some of its most revolutionary companies. Clearly, giving our domestic operations an edge when competing with foreign economic powers, like that of China, should be a priority.

    Yet, there is a huge deterrent to this happening; a green card backlog that runs over 10 years long. I have heard many visa horror stories, and I know certain Indian colleagues who were unable to secure an H-1B visa after three years and were forced to leave the country. Even now, many of my Indian coworkers who have started families in the U.S. are still on H1-B visas, and due to the  green card backlog are forced to perpetually renew them—a constant source of stress on them and their families.

    Although I am an Indian citizen, I was born in Malaysia and since green card quotas are allocated based on country of birth, fortunately there is no waitlist for me. I am grateful my career was not delayed because of an out-of-date system, which has spiraled out of control. One that has cast talented employees by the wayside; stunting the growth of many potentially great startups and would-be tech giants.

    The solution to this has been presented in the form of the America COMPETES Act, a bill passed by the House in February that would exempt immigrants with PhDs in STEM from yearly green card caps. This would give aspiring immigrant graduates the means to establish residency in the U.S. without having to deal with the current backlog.

    Additionally, a new “W”  Start-Up Visa would be instituted for entrepreneurs and essential employees working in management or operations of a startup company. This W Visa would allow an initial three-year starting period, with the possibility of a subsequent five-year extension under certain conditions.

    This bill has the potential to reignite the spirit which made the U.S. a melting pot of great innovation and creation. I haven’t even mentioned the numerous other measures in the Bipartisan Innovation Act that seek to make for a more competitive U.S., such as bolstering domestic manufacturing jobs and implementing earlier STEM education in our schools. Those admitted on the new W Visa alone are projected to bring 429,000 jobs into the market and add $18 billion to the economy.

    Let this be evidence that the best way for the United States to stand up to its economic competition is by embracing those who come to its shores. We cannot afford to fall further behind in the great STEM race.

    Tejas Shetty is a software engineer in Silicon Valley and an advocate for STEM industries and immigration reform in the U.S.

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