- Ms. Widener's look at the debate amongst economists about STEM immigration.
- Linda Wang's story on the variety of folks affected by the immigration debate, including a diary of one chemist from Pakistan.
- A brief overview of the different kinds of visas, by Linda Wang.
- Just 2.2% of approved H1B visas for fiscal year 2011 were for "mathematical and physical sciences", which includes chemists.
- The "pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing" sector accounted for 0.7% of H1B applications; by contrast, the computer systems design sector accounted for 39.5%.
- Doctoral degree holders (from abroad) accounted for just 11% of total applications, with 83% holding just a bachelor's or a master's degree.
- 64.8% of H1B visas holders were from either India (58%) or China (8.8%).
What is truly important is to have an immigration system that allows the best and brightest to come to the U.S. and stay here, says James Duderstadt, former University of Michigan president who has been on several National Academy of Sciences panels that recommend immigration reform. Most of the industrialized world has already made it easier for highly skilled scientists to immigrate, he says. The U.S. has not.
“We end up paying a lot for foreign students’ graduate education and then we show them the door,” Duderstadt says. “These people with advanced skills are worth their weight in gold.”
It is those highly skilled workers that the chemical company Air Products & Chemicals seeks out. “Our objective is to find the right talent and to be blind to the circumstances around them,” says Martha Collins, director of the Global Technology Centers at the company. And if the perfect employee happens to need a visa, the company will work with them to make that happen.
And some degree fields don’t need more workers. The life sciences are one of the sectors where wages are falling in most analyses. Last year it was specifically excluded from a bill expanding H-1B visas offered by the Judiciary Committee chair at the time, Rep. Lamar S. Smith (R-Texas). The bill passed the House but was not taken up in the Senate and died at the end of 2012.
And going home to visit? Forget it. Pius O. Adelani, a postdoc in the department of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Notre Dame, in Indiana, who is from Nigeria, has not returned home since he arrived in the U.S. in 2007 to start a Ph.D. program. He knew there was a chance he could be denied a reentry visa, which would have meant that he’d have to terminate his Ph.D. training. “I didn’t want to take that risk,” he says. Now that he’s completed his Ph.D., he is hoping to visit his father and siblings in Nigeria soon.