U.S. Leaders Look to Foreign Students to Fill STEM Positions

By Catherine Groux
Posted May 17, 2012 10:05 AM

Foreign students can help fill STEM workforce needs.
Foreign students can help fill STEM workforce needs.
In recent years, various reports have indicated that, given the current growth rate, there will not be enough science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degree holders to fill workforce needs.

Recently, the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee released a report highlighting the demand for individuals with bachelor's and master's degrees in STEM subjects. Using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the report shows that the number of STEM jobs will increase by 17% between 2010 and 2020. However, despite the rising need for STEM majors, the number of students earning bachelor's degrees in these subjects has fallen since the 1980s.

As there are not enough American students training to fill STEM positions, some U.S. leaders have turned to international degree seekers to fill workforce needs. For example, in December, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced the creation of the NeXXt Scholars partnership, which helps women from Muslim nations earn STEM degrees in the U.S., a press release states.

The program features a partnership between the State Department, USAID, the New York Academy of Sciences and various women's colleges across the country. Under this alliance, the academy provides Muslim women with access to mentors and the colleges give them financial assistance.

Recently, two U.S. senators announced their own plans to help more international students earn STEM degrees and find jobs in the U.S. after graduation. According to a press release, the SMART Jobs Act would create a new student visa category specifically for foreign students who are pursuing master's and doctorate degrees in STEM subjects.

These individuals would be allowed to stay in the U.S. for one year after graduation to look for a job. Then, when they land a full-time position in a STEM field, they will become legal permanent residents.

According to the bill's sponsors - Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee, and Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware - the legislation would support the U.S. workforce and foster critical growth in STEM fields.

"At a time when our economy needs every job it can get, and when our country is falling behind in the competitive global marketplace, Congress has the opportunity to keep some of the most advanced scientists and engineers in the United States," the press release states.

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