An increasing number of foreign graduates from U.S. universities are electing to return to their home countries or elsewhere after completing their studies. These students have the potential to make great contributions in their relative STEM fields, but many do not want to face the uncertainty of obtaining an H-1B visa.

Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow at the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford, notes, “It used to be by default students from India and China, in particular, bought one-way tickets over here. Now it’s a two-way street. They work for a few years and go home.” He suggests the change is caused by the inability of entrepreneurs and programmers to get work visas.

Long wait times and visa caps make applying for visas a daunting task. According to Brookings Institution research, “If an employer eventually sponsors an H-1B worker for a green card to stay permanently in the United States, the wait time can be longer than 10 years, especially for individuals from… India or China.” As though the wait time were not intimidating enough, the cap on visas does not help an applicant’s odds, either. According to USCIS, the number of H-1B petitions filed increased by 15 percent from FY 2011 to FY 2012. However, the number of petitions approved from FY 2011 to FY 2012 decreased by 3 percent.

Unfortunately, the United States is not generating enough of its own STEM workers to meet its needs. “According to projections, the United States will face a shortfall of more than 200,000 advanced-degree STEM workers by 2018” the American Council on Education wrote in a letter to support the Immigration Innovation Act of 2015, which would eliminate the H1-B cap for advanced-degree graduates. There are certainly other ways Congress could propose to increase the number of American STEM workers. However, eliminating the H1-B cap would be one of the quickest ways to help more qualified STEM workers remain in the United States.

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