(Promoted by Colorado Pols)
In the midst of the craziness of the news of the last week, it’s little wonder that the largest reform to our nation’s immigration policies ended up taking a back burner in news coverage. Lost in the shuffle were a few items worth of our consideration here in Colorado.
The bi-partisan bill from the Senate’s Gang of Eight includes both a fund for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and an increase of the H-1B visa cap. An increase in the cap was needed to help companies fill the thousands of vacancies in high-skilled jobs. The bill proposes increasing the cap from 65,000 per year to 110,000, and allowing the number of H-1B visas available to continue to expand up to a maximum of 180,000 to better track with demand. Given that all the H-1B visas were snatched up within the first few days of them becoming available this year, it is clear that this expansion is necessary.
It is also encouraging to see a national fund to provide a significant stream of money to all states, which would expand opportunities for more students to pursue STEM fields. The STEM education fund would be paid for with an increase in fees on green cards and wouldn’t present a new cost to the American taxpayer. Our country faces an immediate and long-term crisis with the shortage of qualified workers in STEM fields as the number of available science, technology, engineering, and mathematics jobs far outpaces our ability to fill them.
While the increase in H-1B visas helps patch this significant current problem, providing a fund to encourage and retain students in STEM fields is needed to support the jobs of the future. As evidence: Over the last few years, Colorado employers requested on average 2,735 H-1B visas per year for foreign, temporary workers, 74% of which were requested to fill STEM jobs.
If anything, the designated STEM fund in the reform package should be even stronger. The U.S. ranked 41st out of 42 nations in innovation based capacity, according to the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation and 35 states are spending less on education than they were five years ago.
If we’re going to improve, there is also important work to be done in erasing disparities in STEM fields. African Americans and Latinos are 28 percent of the U.S. population, but only seven percent of the STEM workforce. Additionally, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women will fill just 29 percent of the 1.4 million computing jobs expected to open through 2018.
Strengthening the nation’s STEM education pipeline as a part of immigration reform will also strengthen America’s economy and its ability to be an innovation leader well into the future.