Are 'chips' down for foreign STEM workers or US economy?

(This story originally appeared in on Aug 02, 2022)

MUMBAI: The US Congress has recently passed a bill – The Chips and Science Act of 2022, to boost the US semiconductor industry – it is a bid to ‘stem’ the advantage that China had.

An earlier House version of a much wider Bill, reported by TOI included provisions to attract and retain highly qualified STEM workers in the US by assuring a quicker path to a green card. These provisions failed to make it to the final much narrower Chips Bill, which is on its way to President Joe Biden for his signature.

The earlier House version had provided for an unlimited number of green cards to be issued to foreign citizens who have earned a doctoral degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) from a US institute of higher learning or an equivalent degree from a foreign university. Spouses and children were covered under this green card program.

Under US immigration laws only 1.40 lakh employment-based green cards can be issued each year. However, only 7% of such green cards can go to individuals from a single country. If the number of individuals being sponsored from a single country is greater than 7% of the annual available total, a backlog forms, and the excess approved petitions are not considered until a visa becomes available and their petition falls within the initial 7% per-country cap. This creates extensive backlogs for individuals from certain countries, notably India and China.

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FWD.us, a bipartisan political organisation has stated that as of March 2022, there were 6.92 lakh Indians mired in this backlog, followed by 1.06 lakh Chinese. The wait times are projected to be 50 plus years, if the law is not changed, it had added.

In the short term, it may appear that the loss is that of certain categories of foreign STEM workers who have lost their chance at a quicker route to a green card. However, at present, the American economy needs foreign STEM workers. Provisions that would have helped retain highly qualified STEM workers would have boosted American business and given it a competitive edge.

A fact sheet from the American Immigration Council (AIC) explains the critical role of STEM workers in the US economy and to the country’s innovation, and provides an overview of the characteristics and contributions of foreign-born STEM workers in the US.

As of 2019, immigrants made up almost one-fourth, or 23.1 percent, of all STEM workers in the entire country. This is a marked increase from 2000, when just 16.4 percent of the country’s STEM workforce was foreign-born. Between 2000 and 2019, the overall number of STEM workers in the United States increased by 44.5 percent, from 7.5 million to more than 10.8 million.

The foreign-born share of workers has increased since 2000 in the two largest STEM occupational groups: computer and math jobs and engineering jobs. The largest increase was in computer and math fields, with the foreign-born share of workers jumping from 17.7 percent in 2000 to 26.1 percent in 2019.

Among foreign-born STEM workers, there is great diversity in terms of the countries from which they hail, states this fact sheet. While immigrants from India were the largest country of birth group in 2019 (accounting for 28.9 percent of all foreign-born STEM workers), there were also significant numbers of STEM workers who were born in China (273,000), Mexico (119,000), and Vietnam (100,000).

ET Online

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