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Ajit Pai, the Silicon Prairie, and STEM Visas

November 30, 2012. FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who is the son of immigrants from India, commented on House passage of HR 6429 [LOC | WW | PDF], the "STEM Jobs Act of 2012", on Friday, November 30, 2012.

The bill would enable aliens who obtain advanced degrees in STEM fields from US universities to obtain visas, and therefore remain in the US, and contribute to innovation and economic development.

Ajit PaiPai (at right) stated in a release that "I commend the U.S. House of Representatives for taking action to allow additional foreign graduates with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to remain in the United States. We should be proud that our nationís institutions of higher education attract exceptionally talented students from around the world. However, it does not make sense to educate those students here in the United States only to require them to leave the country following graduation."

He continued that "We know that highly educated STEM professionals will innovate, create jobs, and produce economic growth. The only question is whether that entrepreneurial spirit will find a home in the United States or some other country. A sensible STEM immigration policy, therefore, is critical to the competitiveness of our nationís economy generally and our information and communications technology (ICT) sector in particular."

The Silicon Valley area Representatives, including Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), and Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), all voted against this bill. Also, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), whose San Francisco district stretches south to San Mateo and Redwood City, also voted no. Representatives from other nearby districts voted no.

After the vote, Pai, who grew up in the prairie state of Kansas, wrote that "We should encourage STEM graduates to settle the Silicon Prairie, not venture overseas."

The entire Kansas delegation -- Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS), Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), and Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS) -- voted yes. Also, all three members of the Nebraska delegation voted yes. Four out of five Oklahoma Representatives vote yes, and one, Rep. Dan Boren (D-OK), did not vote. The two at large Representatives from South Dakota and North Dakota voted yes. Representatives from Wyoming, Montana, the Colorado 4th District, the Minnesota 7th, the Iowa 5th, and the west Texas districts, all voted yes, except for Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the sponsor, who did not vote.

Not a single prairie Representative voted against the bill. Of course, this group is overwhelmingly Republican. But, it also includes two Democrats, one of whom did not vote, Rep. Boren. The other, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), voted yes. Also, while Republicans voted 218-5 for this bill, two of these no votes came from California Republicans. One of these, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), represents a district located to the east of Silicon Valley. And, four more California Republicans did not vote -- Rep. Herger, Rep. Bilbray, Rep. McClintock, and Rep. Gallegly. Moreover, Rep. Herger submitted a statement for the Congressional Record that had he been present, he would have voted no.

There was a high correlation between party affiliation and voting on HR 6429. However, another divide was also a good predictor of votes. Representatives from California, and especially from Silicon Valley and the surrounding areas, opposed this bill. Representatives from prairie districts overwhelmingly supported this bill.

Rep. Jerry MoranThe Senate has not yet passed HR 6429. It is not likely to do so in the 112th Congress. However, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) (at right), who represents the prairie state of Kansas, introduced, S 3217 [LOC | WW], the "Startup Act 2.0", on May 22, 2012.

It contains a provision intended to keep aliens with advanced degrees in STEM fields working in the US in STEM fields after graduation. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) are cosponsors.

Also, Google is deploying a fiber based broadband network in Kansas City, Kansas.

Pai also stated that "We should enable the next Google, the next Intel, and the next Sun Microsystems to be founded here, not abroad. Today's vote by the House of Representatives is an important step toward making these aspirations become realities."

Pai also wrote, "I also applaud those in the U.S. Senate who are working on this issue. Senators Moran, Warner, Rubio, and Coons, for example, have come together to co-sponsor the Startup Act 2.0. I hope that legislators will continue to work across party lines in this fashion to enact STEM immigration reform."

Section 3 of S 3217 would provide for the adjustment "of the status of not more than 50,000 aliens who have earned a master's degree or a doctorate degree at an institution of higher education in a STEM field to that of an alien conditionally admitted for permanent residence".

It would also "authorize each alien granted such adjustment of status to remain in the United States -- (1) for up to 1 year after the expiration of the alien's student visa ... if the alien is diligently searching for an opportunity to become actively engaged in a STEM field; and (2) indefinitely if the alien remains actively engaged in a STEM field".

(Published in TLJ Daily E-Mail Alert No. 2,480, December 1, 2012.)