Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Bill would let some foreign grads stay in U.S., but not undocumented ones


Photo by dsb nola/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A pair of bills in the Senate and now in the House propose letting some foreign graduate students remain in the United States after finishing their studies, allowing them to adjust their status to legal residents. But undocumented graduates who otherwise meet the educational criteria can't apply. "This bill only applies to immigrants currently in the country legally," wrote Adrienne Watson, a spokesperson for Rep. Loretta Sanchez, in an email. Sanchez, a Democrat from Orange County, is one of the sponsors of the House version of a bill dubbed Startup Act 2.0, which is backed by a bipartisan coalition of legislators. The identical Senate version, introduced last month, boasts similar bipartisan support. The Startup Act 2.0 has been praised as a rare feat of cooperation in an era of partisan immigration politics, but then, this is an easier feat to accomplish when legislators aren't handling the messy business of illegal immigration. By comparison, proposed legislation that's attempted to grant legal status to college students brought to the U.S. as minors has stalled for years, and even the more recent slimmed-down proposals of this nature face an uncertain future. But back to Startup Act 2.0: The two bills would chiefly benefit graduates in the fields of what’s referred to as STEM, an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math. Research has suggested that U.S. businesses could soon face a shortage of STEM workers to fill related jobs, with not enough graduates in these fields coming out of American universities. Foreign students who obtain graduate degrees in STEM-related fields would be eligible for permanent visas under the proposal, as would immigrants who start successful companies and create U.S. jobs. From the House bill:
SEC. 216B. CONDITIONAL PERMANENT RESIDENT STATUS 2 FOR ALIENS WITH AN ADVANCED DEGREE IN 3 A STEM FIELD. (a) IN GENERAL.—Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, the Secretary of Homeland Security may adjust the status of not more than 50,000 aliens who have earned a master’s degree or a doctorate degree at an institution of higher education in a STEM field to that of an alien conditionally admitted for permanent residence and authorize each alien granted such adjustment of status to remain in the United States— (1) for up to 1 year after the expiration of the alien’s student visa under section 101(a)(15)(F)(i) if the alien is diligently searching for an opportunity to 15 become actively engaged in a STEM field; and (2) indefinitely if the alien remains actively engaged in a STEM field. (b) APPLICATION FOR CONDITIONAL PERMANENT RESIDENT STATUS.—Every alien applying for a conditional permanent resident status under this section shall submit an application to the Secretary of Homeland Security before the expiration of the alien’s student visa in such form and manner as the Secretary shall prescribe by regulation.
One catch is that those under conditional status wouldn't be eligible for government assistance, like unemployment compensation, for example. While it wouldn't benefit college graduates without legal status, one thing the legislation proposes is making it easier for both companies and families to sponsor foreign employees and relatives. It would lift the existing per-country numerical cap on employer visas, and adjust the limits on family-based visas, although it wouldn't increase the total number of family visas available.