U.S. Senator Chris Coons of Delaware

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, September 18, 2012
CONTACT: Ian Koski (Coons) at 202-224-4216

Senators Coons, Schumer introduce visa reform bill to keep foreign-born U.S. grad students here to create jobs

Current flawed policy encourages foreign students with advanced degrees in science, technology to move home despite shortage of engineers in U.S.

WASHINGTON U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) unveiled legislation on Tuesday to reform the U.S. visa system in order to encourage the world’s best and brightest to stay in the United States to create jobs after receiving graduate degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. The “BRAINS Act” would fix a long-existing problem in our visa system that forces many of the world’s brightest students to return to their country of origin, taking with them any economic growth and jobs that they might otherwise create here. 

"American colleges and universities are educating some of the sharpest technical minds on the planet," Senator Coons said. "So why are we sending them away to pursue their ideas in other countries? We are fueling the economies that are trying to beat us in the global marketplace. The BRAINS Act clears a path for foreign-born, American-educated students with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and math to stay in the United States after graduation to create jobs here. This bill is a creative solution to a significant problem, and a smart way to inject new innovations into the American market. I'm proud to support these needed reforms to our immigration system, and to help unite families who are an integral part of the fabric of this country."

“It makes no sense that America is educating the world’s smartest and most talented students and then, once they are at their full potential, kicks them out the door,” said Senator Schumer. “We should be encouraging every brilliant and well educated immigrant to stay here, build a business here, employ people here, and grow our economy.  Fixing our broken green card system will help ensure that the next eBay, the next Google, the next Intel will be started in America, not in Shanghai.”

The legislation creates a pilot program where 55,000 new green cards per year will be available for foreign students who graduate from U.S. universities with advanced degrees in STEM fields. It also reduces the red tape to obtain a student visa and allows high-tech workers currently in the United States on temporary visas to renew their visas without having to first return to their country of origin. 

Current immigration policy encourages foreign students to study and get their degrees from America’s top universities, but discourages those same students from remaining in the United States and starting new companies in America. Senators Coons and Schumer noted that those students who wish to make America their permanent home must compete for very limited H1-B temporary visas that make it difficult to change jobs, earn a promotion, or travel abroad; or they must eventually give up and return home—wasting what is often up to a decade of educational investment by our American schools.

Specifically, the BRAINS Act:

  • Creates a 2-year pilot program to provide 55,000 new green cards per year for foreign-born students who graduate from U.S. universities with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (“STEM”). 
  • To be eligible, a foreigner must 1) have received a master’s degree or higher from an eligible U.S. university in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics; 2) have an offer of employment in the U.S. in a STEM field, and 3) be petitioned for by an employer who has gone through labor certification to show that there are not sufficient American workers able, willing, equally qualified and available for the job at the wage level paid by the employer to all other individuals with similar experience and qualifications for the job.
  • To be eligible for its students to receive green cards, a university must be: 1) accredited; 2) at least 10 years old; and 3) classified as a research institution by the Director of the National Science Foundation.  The school cannot provide incentive payments to persons based on securing foreign students for the university.
  • It encourages the best and brightest foreign students to study, live, and work in the United States by allowing them to receive student visas to attend our colleges and universities to study in STEM fields.  STEM students will no longer be required to demonstrate that they have no desire to stay permanently in the U.S. as a precondition to being allowed to attend school here. 
  • It provides any unused green cards from this program to be used to reduce the backlog for employment-based green cards that exists for highly-skilled STEM advanced-degree graduates from foreign universities.
  • It allows temporary workers on high-skilled visas who have not violated their status to renew their visas from within the United States.
  • It provides labor protections to ensure that foreign workers do not take high-paying high-skilled jobs that American workers are available to fill.          
  • It codifies the practice that the priority date (for determining a foreigner’s place in line) for an employer’s green card petition is the date that the employer files the labor certification application.  The bill also ensures that a foreigner who switches from one green card family-preference category to another retains their original priority date, and that a foreigner who switches from one green card employer-preference category to another retains their original priority date.
  • It expands “age-out” protection in current law to benefit minor children who turn 21 while they wait for their green cards to become available.
  • It encourages highly skilled workers to remain in the United States by providing for faster reunification with their spouses and minor children.  This is done by creating a new entry slot for a nuclear family member of a highly-skilled permanent resident when a lawful permanent

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