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Another Voice: Proposed visa changes would hurt STEM workforce

By Rosanna Berardi

Throughout the campaign and leading right up to his election, immigration has been one of Donald Trump’s most discussed topics.

In particular, Trump’s plans for the H-1B visa program have become an issue not just for legal immigration purposes, but for our local and national workforce, which currently employs thousands of H-1B visa recipients, most notably in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) industries.

The H-1B visa is granted to foreign nationals who possess a bachelor’s degree or higher and have a professional job offer in the United States. Each year, Congress limits the number of H-1B visas that are issued. Currently, the number issued is 85,000, with 65,000 issued to those with bachelor’s degrees and an additional 20,000 for those with a master’s degree or higher. The demand for these types of visas is greater than the supply. For fiscal year 2017, U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services received more than 236,000 H-1B applications.

Trump’s proposal includes adding a recruitment requirement to find American workers before hiring foreign ones. While on the surface this appears to be a good idea, the U.S. labor market suffers significant shortages in STEM fields. According to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, economic projections point to a need for approximately 1 million more STEM professionals than the United States will produce over the next decade at the current rate.

Additionally, Trump has proposed increasing the prevailing wage for H-1B visas. It is believed this will force companies to give entry-level jobs to U.S. workers instead of flying in cheaper labor. However, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, there is no verifiable evidence that foreign-born STEM workers adversely affect the wages of American workers. The average STEM worker actually earns slightly more than his or her U.S. counterpart, earning on average $61 more per week.

With a Republican Congress on his side, Trump has the ability to accomplish meaningful immigration reform. But Trump’s H-1B position needs to acknowledge the fact that America is just not churning out enough STEM graduates to fill the needs of our current workforce. In fact, according to a recent report by the McKinsey Global Institute, the number of U.S. students pursuing STEM fields is growing at less than 1 percent per year.

While the number of international students who attend U.S. colleges and universities is staggering, our current immigration policy does not provide them with a significant way to remain in the United States upon graduation. This has been referred to as the “brain drain,” for good reason.

The H-1B visa program complements U.S. workers, fills employment gaps and is integral to the U.S. economy. Trump and Congress need to address this issue, while also encouraging Americans to pursue STEM-related fields of study. With a few tweaks, the United States can continue to attract and benefit from the best and brightest minds of the world.

Rosanna Berardi is the founder and managing partner of Berardi Immigration Law in Amherst.

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