The form of U.S. research is at stake as Congress seeks to reconcile competing versions of a massive bill that has been going on for 2 years, aimed at strengthening U.S. competitiveness with China in research and high-tech manufacturing.
The bill would not allow hundreds of billions of dollars to be spent on research, but the government would set new policies to support science. A controversial provision in the Senate version would change the way the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Energy’s science office distribute their research dollars by geographic region.
Today’s story describes the proposed changes to U.S. immigration rules with the goal of welcoming more foreign scientists and engineers. They are enshrined in the America COMPETES Act, approved by the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year. Tomorrow, we will consider a provision in the Senate bill that would establish new conditions for reporting foreign gifts to faculty and individual employees.
Democrats want to use a large bill of innovation moving through Congress to make it easier for foreign-born scientists and engineers to learn and work in the United States.
The long-held maxim in Washington, DC, that any immigration bill should provide a comprehensive solution to all aspects of the thorny issue, has condemned partial proposals in the past. But members of the House of Representatives hope that the bilateral aspirations to compete better with China will break the stalemate and keep their limited provisions in the final bill.
Immigrants to the United States have played an important role in the basic science and start-up of high-tech companies in the United States. So it should be trivial to facilitate attracting and retaining them, says Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), who introduced a separate bill to create an entrepreneurship visa last year.
His idea was incorporated into the House version of the innovation law passed earlier this year. The new visa category will be applied to people with a high stake in a high-tech startup in the selected areas and to key employees of these companies, from the general set of non-immigrant visa applicants. Their spouses and children would also be eligible for a visa.
In another provision, technically skilled workers may apply for a new type of visa without a home sponsor, which is required by current regulations. A third amendment to immigration laws would allow foreign students to earn a doctorate. In a field of science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) who is eligible for a green card immediately at a U.S. or foreign university, which gives them the status of a permanent resident. This change would leave the current numerical ceilings aside for those waiting to get that precious paper.
According to Lofgren, these provisions “would make the United States more prosperous by reviving the economy, preventing brain drain, creating jobs for American workers, and reclaiming our position as the first choice for our next generation of entrepreneurs around the world.” ”
The House version of the innovation bill takes two more steps to welcome more international researchers. Currently, students seeking a non-immigrant temporary visa must prove that they intend to return home after graduation, a condition that some see as an impediment to staying. The bill would remove that requirement.
A second provision would pave the way for the permanent residence of a small number of international scholars, 10 in this decade, and 100 in 2031, funded by the Department of Defense or working in areas essential to national security.
The COMPETES Act was passed by the House with the support of a single Republican Member of Parliament. And there is no such immigration provision in the Senate version that got a lot of support from Republicans. That means Lofgren and his Democratic colleagues need to be convinced enough Republicans in the Senate that these changes to current immigration policy are in the final bill because they are essential to sustaining U.S. innovation.
A hearing by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration last week made public these deep partisan divisions. The June 14 hearing focused on the situation of the Dreamers, undocumented immigrants living in the United States since childhood, through the Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which has been temporarily suspended from deportation. But this program, created in 2012, faces legal challenges that could soon lead to its cancellation.
Some DACA recipients include early career scientists, such as Dalia Larios, a resident in radiation oncology at Harvard Medical School, who came to the United States from Mexico at the age of 10. Larios was the first recipient of the DACA to join Harvard Medical School, and he declared that he is eager to promote economic growth in the United States, which is eager for students like him to persevere and apply their talents.
The Republican panel easily recognized the contribution of immigrant scientists and engineers to innovation in the United States. But some suggested that it was too early to make new rules for foreign-born researchers before deciding how to play with other groups, such as Dreamers.
“Among DACA and STEM activists, what should be a priority for Congress?” Senator John Cornyn (R – TX), the main proponent of the Senate Innovation Bill, asked Larios, who refused to be elected.
Talking ScienceAfter the hearing, Cornyn said he was concerned that the addition of domestic immigration provisions to the final product would jeopardize the entire bill.
“Immigration is not the main goal [the Senate innovation bill]Cornish said. “And based on the experience here, I think the more we deal with immigration, the harder it will be to overcome it.”
Other Republican senators believe that border security must come first, and they are not trusted to protect national security at U.S. universities that host foreign-born scientists. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R – TN) said the new visa category and other provisions would make it easier for U.S. enemies to steal emerging technologies.
Bernard Burrola, a senior member of the 230-member Public Universities and Lands Association, which advocates for DACA recipients and Lofgren’s provisions for citizenship, rejected Blackburn’s premise. “We take this issue very seriously,” he told Blackburn when asked if international academic partnerships were a threat to national security. “And we work closely with the FBI to identify, understand and improve risks.”
Senator Alex Padilla (D – CA), who presided over last week’s hearing, called on his Republican colleagues to pass immigration provisions in the House bill. “I hope it has become clear today that they have a national interest, not only in terms of the economy, but also in terms of national security,” Padilla said after the hearing. “Taking advantage of the best talent in the world has given us our competitive advantage, and that must continue.”
But Padilla also admitted that Democrats are far from closing the deal. “I think immigration reform is key [final innovation] the bill, ”he said ScienceInsider. “But I think we have more work to do to convince them [Republicans] about that. ‘