A picture of Senator Christopher A. Coons
Chris C.
Democrat DE

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  • Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

    by Senator Christopher A. Coons

    Posted on 2013-01-29

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    COONS. Mr. President, I greatly appreciate the opportunity to work with the Senator from Florida on this legislation and other legislation we are focused on about how to create jobs and how to drive our economy forward. I am grateful for the leadership of Senator Hatch and Senator Klobuchar as well as for their companionship as we serve together on the Judiciary Committee and as the four of us this day introduce this bill of which we are so proud, the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013.



    For decades, the United States enjoyed the commanding advantage of being home to all the world's top universities, particularly in science and technology, engineering and math, and the so-called STEM fields; and we were the best place for the graduates of those universities and their advanced science programs to stay and launch a new business.

    But today that field has changed. Our competitors are vying to provide more supportive environments for innovators, inventions, and startup companies. There has been a sea change in the field of opportunity back home for those foreign nationals who, in increasing numbers, are educated in the United States and whom we then force to return to their nation of origin.

    Even though many of the most talented young people from around the globe still pour into the United States to obtain their master's or doctoral degrees in STEM, now more than ever they are not just tempted to take their education home with them and start businesses elsewhere, but they are attracted by their home countries and forced by our outdated immigration system. What an unwise way to compete in the global economy. Our outdated immigration system hasn't adapted to the modern world.

    Half of all master's and doctoral degrees in STEM fields at American universities are today earned by foreign-born students who then face an uncertain, expensive, and unwieldy path to pursuing their dreams in the United States. Our country is hemorrhaging innovations and the inventors who make them and the jobs that come with them because America's immigration laws have failed to keep up with the demands of the modern age. We cannot afford to keep educating the world's brightest students at our leading universities which, I will remind my colleagues, are subsidized by U.S. tax dollars and American charitable giving, and then tell them they cannot repay those investments by contributing to the U.S. workforce. It is both bad policy and bad business.

    That is why I have been working on this issue since I arrived in the Senate, introducing three bills and calling for the creation of a new class of green card for immigrants who have earned an advanced STEM degree from American universities.

    I was especially glad to see the bipartisan framework released yesterday by Senators McCain, Schumer, Rubio, and others, which moves us toward comprehensive immigration reform and embraces this vital core premise. I also welcome President Obama's contributions to this discussion and look forward to hearing what he has to say today in Las Vegas.

    There is, indeed, broad bipartisan agreement that it is long past time to reform our immigration system to make room for foreign-born, American-educated experts who want to apply their skills, start businesses, and raise their families here. At the same time, we have to dramatically improve STEM education available to American citizens to fill this dramatic gap in these fields. As Senator Hatch said just a few minutes ago, if we take the example of computer science, by 2020, the U.S. economy will need 120,000 men and women to fill these jobs. Yet just 40,000 graduates with degrees in computer science will be Americans. How to fill that gap? The bipartisan legislation we introduce today tackles both sides of this problem, by reforming our outdated immigration system to allow highly skilled engineers and researchers to stay, rather than leaving and taking their jobs and future opportunities with them and by funneling the hundreds of millions of dollars in fees these experts pay for their green cards back into improving U.S.-based STEM education. It is a win-win.

    The Immigration Innovation Act of 2013 will open the door, will recapture unused green cards, and will move away from the outdated model of country caps and overall caps to better compete with countries such as our neighbors to the north in Canada where these caps don't exist, and where Microsoft is eager to open a new massive development facility at our expense and loss.

    One of the most important parts of this legislation, as I mentioned, is that we are using fees from these newly expanded H-1B visas and green cards to fund State initiatives on STEM. This will keep America at the cutting edge of science and technology and fuel economic growth for this country and generations to come.

    While each of the coauthors of this legislation have made substantial contributions, I am especially grateful to Senator Hatch of Utah for his leadership.

    I yield to the Senator from Utah to tell us a little bit more about this legislation.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Utah.

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