Observations on the STEM PhD Immigration Fix

If you haven’t heard, there is a major effort underway to reform U.S. immigration law. One of the proposals is to grant immigrants who have received a PhD or Master’s degree in science, technology, engineering, or math from an American university. This is actually a very specific response to a particular problem, and not a general policy (as Matthew Yglesias seems to think it is). Many foreign students, once they graduate from a U.S. institution, need to have work lined up, or else they lose the ability to stay in the country. It can difficult for the soon-to-be PhD to find a job post-graduation.


What’s the fear of America being overrun by foreign economists, lawyers, doctors, and other skilled professionals who don’t have STEM advanced degrees? For that matter, what’s wrong with foreign-born STEM workers who did their graduate work in the United Kingdom or Canada or France or India or Japan? And do skilled STEM workers really all have to have advanced degrees? Where’s Bill Gates’ PhD? I feel confident we can do better on this front.

Again, this isn’t a broad policy and shouldn’t be overthought (always a good strategy when it comes to the U.S. Senate). I also don’t think it will result in universities turning into green card mills, though I would remove the master’s degree provision–if it’s still in there, then it becomes a real problem. But this is something universities and academics have had to grapple with for years (many institutions hire people specifically to navigate this administrative nightmare)–someone is trained in the U.S., wants to move to another lab after graduation, and is unable to do so.

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