Bennet bill to aid foreign students

Businesses in the nation are having problems getting visas for foreign-born students in science, math and technology fields who want to work here after graduation, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet said Tuesday.

That’s why he’s introducing an immigration-reform measure in the U.S. Senate to offer a new type of green card to such students not only while they’re in school, but after they graduate.

“Today’s immigration policies are saying, ‘Stay where you are. America is closed for business,’ ” Bennet said. “The number of students graduating with engineering degrees in the United States has stagnated at around 120,000 annually, while 850,000 to a million engineers are graduating each year in India and China. A number of companies and their leadership in Colorado have ... made it clear that our current visa system is putting them at a competitive disadvantage in the global marketplace.”

The Democrat said more than 20 percent of the engineering and technology startup companies in Colorado in 2007 were founded by immigrants. That means jobs not only for them, but for out-of-work Americans, he said.

Under his proposed bill, foreign-born students, including those whose parents are in the country illegally, would qualify for the new visa if they are pursuing advanced degrees in the so-called STEM disciplines: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The new program would be paid for from visa application fees, and some money from that would go to scholarships to U.S.-born students who want to earn advanced degrees.

According to Bennet’s office, more than 40 percent of 2010 Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children, employing more than 3.6 million people and generating about $4.2 trillion in revenue. On the education side, one-half to two-thirds of all doctorate degrees awarded by U.S. colleges in 2009 were earned by foreign students in such fields as physics, economics and computer science.

“It only makes sense to keep international talent in our economy and encourage American students to enter STEM fields,” Bennet said. “This plan addresses these problems through a comprehensive approach with an eye toward long-term workforce development, economic growth and job creation.”

Bennet said the measure isn’t intended to replace the controversial DREAM Act, which is designed to offer legal status to children of undocumented workers if they finish at least two years of military service or college.


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