Biologists Not Welcome

Proposed legislation that sought to offer green cards to foreign STEM students excluded those in biology.

Beth Marie Mole
Sep 28, 2012

Legislators purposely excluded biological sciences from a failed bill that would have provide 55,000 green cards a year to foreign graduates with advanced US degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, due to concern that competition for jobs in the life science sector is already too fierce.

“There is a very high unemployment rate in [the biological sciences] sector already,” an aide to Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), who sponsored the bill, titled the STEM Jobs Act told ScienceInsider. “It doesn't make sense to make it any harder” for US scientists to find a job in the biological sciences.”

Although the bill failed in the House last week (September 20), industry experts applauded the exclusion of biosciences from the proposal, also citing the current job market. “The people who wrote this bill seem to have done their homework,” Michael Teitelbaum, a demographer and senior adviser at the Albert...

The bill aimed to make it easier for foreign students earning masters or doctoral degrees to. stay in the country, rather than return home and work for American competitors. Currently, nearly 4 out of 10 masters students in the STEM fields are foreign born, while only 5 percent of immigrants are selected based on education. “This bill makes our immigration system smarter by admitting those who have the education and skills America needs,” Smith told The Washington Post.

Despite bipartisan support for helping the country retain STEM graduates, the bill failed because it would have also cut other visa programs, leading democrats to accuse republicans of trying to slash total immigration rates. Democrats have also drafted a similar bill, and the next Congress is expected to reconsider the issue. The new bill, however, also excludes biological sciences.