Getting a Return on Investment

December 7, 2012 – In The News
Pittsburgh Business Times

Many discussions regarding STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) issues in the United States, particularly those surrounding company creating and talent retention, also end up being about immigration reform. Students studying at American universities with hopes of building a startup in the U.S. after graduation, are forced to leave the U.S. if they can’t find a job with a company that has the wherewithal to sponsor an H1B visa.

The U.S. could lose its innovation and technological edge as it looks for more ways to boost the STEM pipeline. In Pennsylvania alone, it is estimated that by 2018, 314,000 more STEM workers will be needed, according to data gathered by the organization STEMConnector.

33 percent of STEM doctoral students at U.S. universities are foreign students on temporary visas, and 57 percent of U.S. post-doctoral fellows in STEM fields are here on temporary visas. As more foreign students come to learn and as schools continue to push entrepreneurship, challenges with immigration may only grow without a federal reform.

There is a gap between the different types of visas and availability, said Robert Whitehill, an immigration attorney at the law firm Fox Rothschild LLP. He noted there are only 65,000 H1Bvisas available nationwide each year, and they go quickly. Applications this year opened April 1, and the cap was hit by June.

"This leaves a lot of budding entrepreneurs without employment authorization or without many opportunities to continue their wok in the U.S.,” Whitehill said. “Clearly, a better path is needed.”

Whitehill said stymied student entrepreneurs are a common sight, and all the top-ranked schools have the same problem, not just local schools like CMU or University of Pittsburgh. Whitehill, who has worked in immigration law for 30 years, said every few years there is a reform effort.

The STEM Jobs Act focuses on people in the country earning advanced degrees. The House of Representatives passed the bill, which would allocate up to 55,00 greed cards to people receiving advanced degrees in STEM fields. However, the act is not supported by the White House and isn’t expected to pass the Senate because it eliminated another program that gave legal residency to people from countries with historically low immigration rates. Another bill still in play in Congress is the Startup Visa Act, which focuses on people with advanced degrees starting companies in the U.S.

“This is legal immigration,” Whitehilll said. “There is nothing illegal about any of this. These are not criminals. These are law-abiding individuals who bring entrepreneurial and intellectual vitality to our community.”