Sunday, June 30, 2013

There's probably going to be a STEM green card bill signed by the president

From The Chronicle of Higher Education, a little factlet that's being lost in the news about the Senate passing the immigration reform bill:
Foreigners who earned Ph.D.'s at American universities would be eligible for green cards, while foreign students who completed master's degrees or Ph.D.'s in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (the STEM fields) could petition for a card. 
"The real game changer in the bill for universities is in the green-card section, where advanced-degree graduates for STEM fields have green cards stapled to their diplomas," said Craig Lindwarm, assistant director for international issues and Congressional and governmental affairs at the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities.
Immigration reform is headed over to the House of Representatives. Very few people believe that the House has the inclination (or the organization, for that matter) to pass the Senate bill. It is my vague understanding that they're much more likely to do this in piecemeal fashion. And what do I see coming out of the House Judiciary Committee? (via The Hill):
The House Judiciary Committee on Thursday passed a tech-backed immigration bill from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) on a 20 to 14 vote. 
The bill would increase the number of H-1B visas for highly skilled foreign workers, as well as make 55,000 green cards available to foreign graduates of U.S. universities with advanced technical degrees. But to offset making those green cards available, the bill would eliminate the diversity visa and siblings of U.S. citizens.
The House bill (or at least, the Issa version) is here; the Senate bill that has been voted on is here. I have no idea whether or not the House will consider low-skill immigration, but I think it's quite likely that some form of high-skill immigration (i.e. expansion of H-1B visas, green cards for international students who graduate with Ph.D.s and M.S.s) will make it through the House and the Senate and be signed by the President. I should note that I am neither an immigration legislation specialist, or a Congressional expert.

Gee, I hope this works out for everyone involved. Certainly, the tech companies will get what they want (and, seeing as how they're the source of much future economic growth, perhaps they should be at the front of the line?) But at what cost?

Best wishes to all of us. 


  1. We are so (for the lack of stronger word) fucked...

  2. hmm.... I don't really know how it works now, but I've seen some foreigners work for many years in the US doing STEM work before being eligible for a green card. Looking at it from their perspective - is this a form of 'green' handcuffs? Could this be what is driving down STEM wages now?

    If the green card comes right at graduation, what would stop the new green card holders from going to the highest paid jobs they could get? Perhaps they will leave STEM after graduation as so many US STEM graduates do now.

    Am I missing something?

  3. The current system was definitely driving wages down. But from previous versions of the bill, the green card comes with a lot of conditions so it's not a real green card and it will continue driving wages down. If you want immigrants who are educated, do it right and give them a real green card with no conditions and they can live anywhere in the country and do whatever they want. Only this way will they not be exploited by companies and create a situation where lots of scientists are willing to accept low wages and bad working conditions because they are afraid of losing their visa. The current H1-B path to the green card is one of the worst ideas in immigration in this regard both for the immigrants and for domestic workers.

  4. 100 years ago, your employer couldn't threaten you with putting you on the next boat back to Prussia if you complained about the job or joined a union. That's why working conditions got better despite having a bunch of immigrants and wages went. This new green card that ties you to an employer for five years (earlier versions; haven't read this bill) is a joke that won't be good for anyone.

    1. Unless you were a Chinese.

    2. There were a lot less Chinese immigrants than Europeans back then as well. Ships from China weren't just allowed to dock in San Francisco. They could never have the impact on jobs by their numbers. If they did, they would probably just get deported. Despite having Chinatowns and workers on the railroads, it was really a small trickle compared to Europeans. They were exploited, but it didn't matter because their small numbers didn't make a difference to the factories who needed way more and had to do with Italians and Irish who were starting to demand rights. Obviously, you can't look at the situation back then and get an accurate picture if you examine it through the liberal and non-racist world view of today's USA where less than half the population is WASPs. The USA at the turn of the century was very different. Anybody non-white didn't matter in the scheme of things. I'm sorry, but that's the truth. The country wasn't built on diversity, that's for sure. But back than being from Italy counted as being diverse.

      The world was pretty racist back then. I probably wouldn't have been invited to the party either (and indeed, my great-grandparents were refused permission to go to the USA in the early 1920s; I still have the photograph where that side of the family is dressed up in suits and nice clothes in what was to be their pre-voyage photo, but ended up as the pre-famine and pre-war photo...).

      Today there are ~100,000 working in the chemical industry according to Chemjobber's last numbers, probably less who are PhDs. Probably 10,000 PhD working for way below average wage and no benefits will be a huge problem. But if they can demand the same wages and conditions, the problems will be minimized.

    3. In a way, uncle sam's description of a company new relationship with chinese STEM H-1B workers reminds me of the old company towns in West Virginia that was owned by the coal company. People were trapped to work there and life sucked.

      Maybe if word gets back to China the immigrants will stop pouring in.

  5. Looks like its time to learn Chinese. I would figure this would have some value in the US in the future in light of the fact so few Chinese STEM workers want to go back home to China.

    But then again every prediction I have made about the value of some form of learning and education has been wrong so far.

  6. I used to think politicians were just ignorant on this issue, but now it's pretty obvious that nobody in D.C. cares. Scientists and engineers aren't a big constituency. They don't have lobbyists to wage PR warfare. They don't contribute to campaigns as a block. Our well-being doesn't even enter the political calculus.

    Instead of whining about the stupidity of the law, each of us has to decide what we're going to do. Personally, I'm looking for a way out of science. The job market isn't pretty now, and it's going to get much, much uglier.

  7. Ah, bureaucracy and its endless gyrations!