U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) today urged Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to support efforts to make it easier for highly-skilled foreigners to immigrate to and permanently reside in the United States.
“We spend a lot of time talking about the outsourcing of jobs,” said Alexander at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Homeland Security. “One good way to create more and better jobs is to “insource” brainpower. That means making it easier for the highly-educated immigrants we need to come to the United States and to stay here.”
Alexander noted one example of insourcing immigrant brainpower in Tennessee. “Half the members of the scientific management team at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, including the director of the lab, are immigrants who came to Tennessee to contribute to our government’s cutting-edge energy research,” Alexander said. “The laboratory is better for their having come to America, and so is the nation.”
Half of U.S. Nobel Prize winners in physics are either immigrants or the children of immigrants, Alexander noted, adding that “Yesterday, Bill Gates told the Senate HELP Committee that if we don’t do a better job at attracting the best and brightest from around the world to our country, we will lose our competitive edge.” Gates, the Chairman of Microsoft who was testifying at a hearing on U.S. competitiveness, proposed: increasing the number of H-1B visas for highly skilled immigrants; encouraging the best students from abroad to enroll in our colleges and universities and to remain in the United States when their studies are completed; and expediting the path to permanent resident status for highly skilled workers.
In asking Chertoff what recommendations he would have for any future immigration legislation, Alexander noted that the immigration bill that passed the Senate last year included three provisions to attract highly-skilled immigrants to the U.S.:
1. Allowing foreign students who graduate from an American university with a doctorate or a master’s degree in math, engineering, or the sciences to remain in the United States for up to a year to seek employment and, if he or she finds a job, make him or her automatically eligible to be a lawful permanent resident of the United States.
2. Exempting from any green card “caps” those who have a masters or PhD in math or science and have been working legally within the United States for the past three years.
3. Setting aside two-thirds of diversity green cards – or about 33,000 of 50,000 total – for foreign nationals who have a master’s or doctorate degree in the sciences, mathematics, technology, or engineering. Diversity green cards are traditionally for immigrants from countries that are otherwise underrepresented in the overall number of immigrants into the United States.
While Alexander supported those provisions, he ultimately voted against the immigration bill because it failed to adequately secure the nation’s borders.