BRAIN Act would create new visa for STEM doctoral graduates

Last week Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA) introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives which would create a new class of employment-based visas designed specifically to keep foreign students who graduate from U.S. doctoral programs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) related fields in the United States.  The Best Return on America’s Investment Now (BRAIN) Act would create an EB-6 visa classification with an annual allotment of 14,000 visas. These 14,000 visas would come from the existing pool of 40,040 EB-3 visas, but would not add to the total number of employment-based visas allotted annually.

In addition, the bill calls for the elimination of the “per country” cap, which currently limits the number of employment-based immigrant visas that can be issued annually to immigrants from individual countries. While some foreign students graduating with a doctoral degree from a U.S. institution can seek an employment-based visa under the EB-1 category for “people of extraordinary ability,” most recent graduates do not meet the high standard for extraordinary ability and consequently must return to their home country or seek a nonimmigrant visa.  In practice, this means that American institutions attract some of the best and the brightest from abroad, but then require most to return home to become economic competitors, in countries like India and China.  Rep. Capuano argues that since U.S. institutions educate these students, the U.S. should directly benefit from their education.

The BRAIN Act is premised on the argument that the U.S. should want to retain doctoral graduates in STEM fields because there are not a sufficient number of U.S. citizens graduating with advanced degrees in these fields.  Furthermore, by enabling these students to remain in the U.S. upon completion of their doctoral STEM degree, the U.S. economy would benefit from their innovations and entrepreneurship.  In the competition for global talent, this bill would allow more talented and U.S. educated foreign students to legally remain in the U.S. after receiving their degree.

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