Bill Introduced in Congress to Replace Green Card Lottery with Visas for Foreign Tech Graduates
The US is looking to shift the focus of Green Cards onto skilled hi-tech foreign students rather than its current lottery scheme.
US senator John Cornyn, a senior Republican who sits on a panel that oversees immigration, has introduced legislation that would reserve 55,000 permanent resident visas for overseas students graduating from specific US-based courses.
These include science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).
Mr Cornyn said: "In the global competition for the world's best and brightest minds in math and science, the United States should take a backseat to no one."
His ACT – Securing the Talent America Requires for the 21st Century – has been backed by the American Council on International Personnel (ACIP).
Lynn Shotwell, executive director at ACIP, said: "The American economy needs these highly sought-after graduates, and we can't afford to let our US immigration system fall behind in the global race for talent by losing these graduates to foreign competitors."
To offset the new visas, the present lottery system which is intended to boost immigration from under-represented countries will be scrapped.
Under the current visa system foreign tech graduates can work in the US on temporary H-1B visas, but these only last for six years. After that, many foreign workers are forced to return home as there's no direct path to an employment-based Green Card.
Many big technology and software companies are unhappy about this brain drain and the lack of visas available for foreign talent.
Software giant Microsoft has opened a campus in Canada, 130 miles north of its Washington headquarters, which it stocks with overseas workers that are unable to obtain US visas.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney also supports the liberalisation of immigration rules for tech specialists.
However, Cornyn's bill is one of several such immigration-focused laws that may struggle to get passed ahead of the presidential election later this year.
Cornyn said that an increase in visas for STEM graduates would be important to US technology companies that want to improve access to an international pool of workers.
It is estimated that the US currently has some two million unfilled hi-tech jobs.
David Bier, policy analyst at the Washington-based Competitive Enterprise Institute, said: "The economy is ready to grow, but quotas and restrictions hinder growth. Simply put, America cannot cut itself from the international labour market and succeed."