United States: New STEM Immigration Proposal Introduced, Others Expected
A bill introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) would streamline the permanent residence process and allocate 55,000 employment-based immigrant visas to STEM advanced-degree graduates. EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3 foreign nationals would be eligible to file an adjustment of status application before an immigrant visa became available, on payment of an additional fee. Unused employment-based immigrant visas would be carried over to the following fiscal year. Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) are expected to introduce their own STEM proposal today.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) has introduced the Securing the Talent America Requires for the 21st Century Act (STAR Act), a bill that would streamline the permanent residence process and add 55,000 more employment-based (EB) immigrant visas for foreign nationals holding a U.S. advanced degree in a designated science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) field.
The bill also seeks to alleviate the consequences of lengthy employment-based immigrant visa backlogs by allowing unused EB visa numbers to be recaptured and permitting certain EB immigrants to file an application for adjustment of status before an immigrant visa became available (though the adjustment could not be approved until a visa number was available).
New EB-2 Subcategory for STEM Advanced-Degree Holders
The STAR Act would create a new EB-2 immigrant visa subcategory for qualifying STEM Master’s and Ph.D. graduates of U.S. research institutions. A U.S. research institution is defined as a university that has received at least $5 million in federal research and development funding (or is part of a university system that has received such funding) or has been in existence for at least 10 years.
STEM advanced-degree graduates would be given preferential access to EB-2 immigrant visa numbers. They would also have access to an additional 55,000 immigrant visa numbers, which would not be subject to per-country quotas. To offset the additional visa numbers, the Diversity Visa Lottery program would be eliminated.
Qualifying STEM F-1 graduate students would benefit from “dual intent,” meaning that they would be permitted to pursue permanent residence without jeopardizing their nonimmigrant status and would not be required to maintain a foreign residence abroad.
Streamlined Labor Certification Procedures
EB-2 STEM advanced-degree holders would subject to labor certification, but could qualify for streamlined processing. STEM Ph.Ds. would have their labor certifications treated as shortage occupation cases, meaning that their employers could bypass the PERM process and apply for labor certification directly with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
STEM master’s degree graduates would be eligible for “special handling” of their labor certifications, much as college and university teacher cases are treated under current law. Unlike standard applications, STEM special handling cases would not be judged by whether minimally qualified U.S. workers were available. Instead, if the STEM master’s graduate were more qualified than U.S. workers who met the employer’s minimum requirements, the employer would be entitled to certification. STEM special handling certifications would remain valid indefinitely, unlike standard labor certifications, which expire after six months.
Early Adjustment for Employment-Based Immigrants, Recapture of Unused Immigrant Visas
For a $500 fee, foreign nationals with an approved or approvable EB-1, EB-2 or EB-3 petition would be permitted to file an application for adjustment of status before a visa number became available to them. (The adjustment could not be approved, however, until a visa number was made available.) This accommodation would not be limited to STEM advanced-degree graduates. In addition, unused EB immigrant visas would carry over to the following fiscal year. Under current law, unused immigrant visa numbers evaporate at the end of a fiscal year.
Prospects for the STAR Act
The STAR Act is in the very early stages of the legislative process and has yet to be scheduled for review and mark-up by the Senate Immigration Subcommittee. Sen. Cornyn’s bill joins several other STEM immigration proposals that have been introduced in Congress in recent months, including Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s (D-CA) IDEA Act. Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) are expected to introduce their own STEM bill today. Though STEM provisions typically enjoy bipartisan support in principle, none has advanced beyond the proposal stage.