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Bill to raise number of STEM visas for immigrants not passed

Not far to the east of Greensboro lies the Research Triangle, a region encompassing a collection of high-tech businesses and exceptional universities. Congressional legislation has the potential to increase the number of foreign students with advanced degrees who can work at those companies, but the latest attempt to raise the cap on STEM visas was unsuccessful last week.

Lawmakers have been trying to solve this dilemma for some time. There is an apparent shortage of U.S. citizens with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and companies have responded by seeking employees from the abundance of well-educated foreign students. But due to current immigration laws, many foreign students who are qualified for high-tech employment are turned away. While 40 percent of master's degrees in STEM fields go to foreign students, only 5 percent are permitted to stay in the country and apply those skills.

Last week, the House of Representatives considered and defeated a bill that would have raised the number of STEM visas available to foreign students to 55,000 per year. The reason why the bill was not passed was because many House members objected to the requirement that the increase in the STEM program be offset by the elimination of the Diversity Visa Lottery Program. The latter program provides visas to immigrants who come from nations with reduced immigration rates.

In order to obtain a STEM visa, an applicant must have obtained an advanced degree from an approved university, must show that U.S. citizens do not have the skills for the job, and must assent to work for the hiring company for five years or more.

Although this bill did not pass, there are other pieces of legislation in the works that address the cap on the STEM visa program. Potential applicants should look out for developments in this area.

Source: The Washington Post, "House bill to increase visas for science and technology students defeated," Sept. 20, 2012

• Obtaining immigration visas can be a complex process. If you would like to learn more, please visit our North Carolina employment visa page.

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