The hot topic in Congress this month has been all about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) visas. Last Thursday, despite rigorous support from top universities and companies across the U.S., a version of the STEM bill (H.R. 6429) introduced by Congressman Lamar Smith (R- Texas) failed to pass the U.S. House of Representatives. The STEM Jobs Act of 2012 would have authorized 55,000 permanent resident visas for post-graduate STEM degree holders, conditioned on a labor certification sponsored by an employer to work for five years.
The biggest hurdle for the STEM Jobs Act of 2012 and the point of contention between political factions was not the allocation of visas for STEM graduates, but the method for allocating those visas. The STEM Jobs Act of 2012 would have eliminated the 55,000 visas currently allocated for the Diversity Lottery, which proponents claim is the only means by which immigrants from certain countries can qualify for a permanent visa. Others argue that immigration levels should not be a zero-sum game.
In the same vein, U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced a very similar STEM bill, the STAR Act of 2012 (S.3185) in the Senate earlier this May, which also sought to eliminate the Diversity Lottery and reallocate those visas for STEM graduates instead. The bill is still pending review.
Two additional STEM bills have also been introduced but do not seek to eliminate the Diversity Lottery. Attracting the Best and Brightest Act of 2012, (H.R. 6412) introduced this month by U.S. Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) is a similar STEM bill that allocates 50,000 visas dedicated to STEM graduates by amending the Immigration and Nationality Act. The same week, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) introduced his own version of a STEM bill (S.3553). The BRAINS Act, which is very similar to Rep. Lofgren’s bill, allocates 55,000 visas.
Preparing for the Inevitable – a STEM Bill Once Passed
The reality, by the looks of things, is that some version of a STEM bill will be passed in the near future (relatively speaking). For business immigration practitioners, are you ready? How should you prepare for this revised employment category once a bill is passed by both houses and enacted into law?
The good news is that all versions of a STEM bill currently awaiting Congressional review require a test of the labor market by the sponsoring U.S. employer. For immigration practitioners who regularly prepare PERM applications, this will be somewhat familiar. However, there are steps practitioners should consider in anticipation of this category (if and when it becomes law). A bit of planning in advance can be a great way to demonstrate to clients the value of your counsel:
- Assessing foreign nationals in the STEM category: You’ll want to ensure you fully understand how STEM has been legislatively defined; Which institutions qualify in granting a STEM degree; and, Whether the foreign national received a degree in a qualifying area of study. (As some may have already experienced with foreign nationals seeking STEM extensions for their EADs, this is not always so straightforward.)
- Streamlining the PERM process: Do you have your activities in place? Are you keeping track of when job ads and job orders expire? Are you tracking when you may begin to file a ETA-9089? Have you set up your online profile for e-filing? The best way to manage multiple ticklers, reminders and expiration dates is a user-friendly yet robust immigration case management solution.
- Smart management of PERM Data: Want to track how a job description was used in the past? Curious if you should indicate Kellogg language in any particular job description? Want to tally the number of PERM approvals and their DOL processing times? Employers may inquire about this information at any given time. Managing the knowledge accrued from multiple PERM cases can be a serious benefit in streamlining PERM preparation. The information gleaned can help your organization provide a more cutting-edge service to business clients. With the right type of technology, you can obtain this information quickly and efficiently.
If a STEM bill passed this congressional session, would your organization be ready to answer client questions? What other issues or challenges do you anticipate the passage of a STEM bill would bring?
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