The Keep STEM Talent Act of 2021, or H.R. 5924, would allow certain international graduates with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to apply for legal permanent residence in the United States. The bill was introduced in the House of Representatives on November 9, 2021, by Representative Bill Foster (D-Illinois) along with cosponsors Representatives Eddie Johnson (D-Texas), Anna Eshoo (D-California), and Deborah Ross (D-North Carolina).
The United States currently faces a shortage of STEM workers. Recent estimates show that STEM job openings in the country outnumber qualified workers by 3 million. This gap is projected to widen to 6 million by 2030, representing $8.5 trillion in lost annual revenue. Hence, U.S. employers rely on high-skilled immigrants with STEM degrees to trigger their full potential. Currently, foreign-born workers account for over a quarter of STEM workers in the United States, with this ratio jumping from 12% in 1990 to 24% in 2015.
Foreign-born high-skilled workers are essential to remedy the U.S. STEM worker deficit and are critical for America’s innovation and entrepreneurship. For example, first and second-generation immigrants have established 46% of the high-tech companies on the Fortune 500 list. These companies include well-known brands such as eBay, Moderna, and Tesla. Additionally, international STEM graduates significantly influence the number of patents filed. Studies have shown that for every 1% increase in foreign-born university graduates, there is a 15% increase in the number of patents per capita. Yet, STEM graduates face multiple bureaucratic hurdles to work in the U.S.
The Keep STEM Talent Act of 2021 aims to attract and retain the best foreign talent to allow for continued economic growth and technological advancement.
Specifically, the Keep STEM Talent Act of 2021 would:
- Discard numerical limitations for foreign-born STEM workers seeking LPR status. Foreign-born individuals looking to take advantage of this new policy require a STEM graduate degree obtained from a U.S. higher education institution. They would also have to be either employed or have an employment offer from a U.S.-based employer in a STEM-related occupation. In addition, foreign-born employees would need to earn salaries higher than the median amount for their occupational field. STEM fields covered under this bill include:
- Computer and information sciences
- Mathematics and statistics
- Biological and biomedical sciences
- Physical sciences
- Agriculture sciences
- Natural resources and conservation sciences
- Allow holders of F visas the opportunity to seek legal permanent residence (LPR). F visas are nonimmigrant visas granted to students to come to the U.S., usually for high school or university education. F visa holders are not given a pathway to LPR status, meaning they are forced to return to their home countries after concluding their education. However, with the Keep STEM Talent Act of 2021, F-visa holders enrolled in a STEM program could change their nonimmigrant status and seek LPR in the United States.
The Keep STEM Talent Act of 2021 is a notable attempt to boost the U.S.’s available STEM worker pool by allowing foreign-born individuals who hold master’s degrees or higher certifications from U.S. universities to remain in the country and receive LPR status. Being able to successfully eliminate the large shortage of STEM workers in the U.S. has the possibility of increasing innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as national security and global influence.
The National Immigration Forum would like to thank Joshua Rodriguez, policy intern, for his extensive contributions to this bill summary.