NEC Urges Congress to Address STEM Skills Gap in Immigration Reform
Regional Business Group Supports “I-Squared” Bill
BOSTON – The New England Council, the nation’s oldest regional business association representing hundreds of employers throughout the region, is urging Congress to address the shortage of highly skilled workers in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields as they pursue comprehensive immigration reform. In a letter sent to all members of the New England Congressional delegation, the Council urged members to support the provisions put forth in “Immigration Innovation Act of 2013,” referred to as the “I-Squared” bill to address the STEM skills gap with both short term and long term solutions.
“As our leaders in Washington work in the coming weeks and months toward comprehensive reform of our nation’s immigration system, there are many challenges that they must address,” said James T. Brett, President & CEO of The New England Council. “However, we believe Congress also has an opportunity to address a significant problem that could hinder economic growth, and that is the shortage of highly skilled workers in the STEM fields. The Immigration Innovation Act would do just that, and we urge New England’s Congressional leaders to support this legislation, either on its own or as part of a comprehensive reform plan.”
The bipartisan “I-Squared” bill—whose co-sponsors include Sen. Kelly Ayotte of Hampshire, Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire—puts forth both a short term and a long term solution to the STEM skills gap. In the short-term, the I-Squared Bill would increase the cap on H1-B visas that allow employers to supplement their current workforce with highly skilled foreign workers, and increases the number of permanent resident “green cards” available to foreign-born graduates with advanced STEM degrees. To provide a more long term solution to the shortage of STEM workers, the legislation reallocates the fees collected from H1-B visas and STEM green cards fees to fund a grant program to promote STEM education and worker retraining to be administered by the states.
It its letter, the Council notes that the U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that STEM jobs will grow by 17 percent between 2008 and 2018, compared to just 9.8 percent-growth in non-STEM jobs. However, at the current pace, the U.S. simply will not be able to produce enough workers to fill the jobs.
In addition to these advocacy efforts, the NEC also recently joined inSPIRE STEM USA, a bipartisan coalition of businesses and organizations dedicated to promoting legislative action that addresses STEM immigration and education reform. The bipartisan coalition is co-chaired by former New Hampshire Senator John Sununu and national immigration reform advocate Maria Cardona, a former advisor to both President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
The New England Council, the country’s oldest regional business organization, is an alliance of businesses, academic and health institutions, and public and private organizations throughout New England formed to promote economic growth and a high quality of life in the region. The Council is dedicated to identifying and supporting federal public policies and articulating the voice of its membership regionally and nationally on important issues facing New England. The NEC is also committed to working with public and private sector leaders across the region and in Washington through educational programs and forums for information exchange. For more information, please visit: www.newenglandcouncil.com.