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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Immigration of Foreign Nationals with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Degrees



Ruth Ellen Wasem
Specialist in Immigration Policy

Although the United States remains the leading host country for international students in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) fields, the global competition for talent has intensified. A record number of STEM graduates—both U.S. residents and foreign nationals—are entering the U.S. labor market, and there is a renewed focus on creating additional immigration pathways for foreign professional workers in STEM fields. Current law sets an annual worldwide level of 140,000 employment-based admissions, which includes the spouses and children in addition to the principal (i.e., qualifying) aliens. “STEM visa” is shorthand for an expedited immigration avenue that enables foreign nationals with graduate degrees in STEM fields to adjust to legal permanent resident (LPR) status without waiting in the queue of numerically limited LPR visas. The fundamental policy question is should the United States create additional pathways for STEM graduates to remain in the United States permanently?

The number of full-time graduate students in science, engineering, and health fields who were foreign students (largely on F-1 nonimmigrant visas) grew from 91,150 in 1990 to 148,923 in 2009, with most of the increase occurring after 1999. Despite the rise in foreign student enrollment, the percentage of STEM graduate students with temporary visas in 2009 (32.7%) was comparable to 1990 (31.1%). Graduate enrollments in engineering fields have exhibited the most growth of the STEM fields in recent years. About 40,000 graduate degrees were awarded to foreign STEM students in 2009, with 10,000 of those going to Ph.D. recipients.

After completing their studies, foreign students on F-1 visas are permitted to participate in employment known as Optional Practical Training (OPT), which is temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study. Generally, a foreign student may work up to 12 months in OPT status. In 2008, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) expanded the OPT work period to 29 months for F-1 students in STEM fields.

Many F-1 visa holders (especially those who are engaged in OPT) often change their immigration status to become professional specialty workers (H-1B). Most H-1B beneficiaries are typically admitted to work in STEM occupations. In FY2010, the most recent year for which detailed data on H-1B beneficiaries (i.e., workers renewing their visas as well as newly arriving workers) are available, almost 91,000 H-1B workers were employed in computer-related occupations, and they made up 47% of all H-1B beneficiaries that year.

The H-1B visa and the OPT often provide the link for foreign students to become employmentbased LPRs. In total, foreign nationals reporting STEM occupations made up 44% of all of the 676,642 LPRs who were employment-based principal immigrants during the decade of FY2000- FY2009. Of all of the LPRs reporting STEM occupations (297,668) over this decade, 52% entered as professional and skilled workers. STEM graduates seeking LPR status are likely to wait in line to obtain LPR status. Those immigrating as professional and skilled workers face wait times of many years, but those who meet the criteria of the extraordinary ability or advanced degrees preference categories have a much shorter wait.

STEM visas are gaining interest in the 112th Congress, and various bills with STEM visa provisions (H.R. 399, H.R. 2161, H.R. 3146, H.R. 5893, H.R. 6412, S. 1965, S. 1986, S. 3185, S. 3192, and S. 3217) have been introduced. The House Committee on the Judiciary held two hearings on STEM and other high-skilled immigration in 2011. These issues also arose during a 2011 Senate Committee on the Judiciary hearing on the economic rationale for immigration reform. Most recently, the House Rules Committee has posted the STEM Jobs Act of 2012 (H.R. 6429) on its website indicating that it may come to the floor the week of September 17, 2012.



Date of Report: September 18, 2012
Number of Pages: 34
Order Number: R42530
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Saturday, October 6, 2012

Noncitizen Eligibility for Federal Public Assistance: Policy Overview and Trends



Ruth Ellen Wasem
Specialist in Immigration Policy

The extent to which residents of the United States who are not U.S. citizens should be eligible for federally funded public aid has been a contentious issue for more than a decade. This issue meets at the intersection of two major policy areas: immigration policy and welfare policy. The eligibility of noncitizens for public assistance programs is based on a complex set of rules that are determined largely by the type of noncitizen in question and the nature of services being offered. Over the past 16 years, Congress has enacted significant changes in U.S. immigration policy and welfare policy. Congress has exercised oversight of revisions made by the 1996 welfare reform law (the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, P.L. 104-193)— including the rules governing noncitizen eligibility for public assistance that it established—and legislation covering programs with major restrictions on noncitizens’ eligibility (e.g., food stamps/SNAP, Medicaid).

This report deals with the four major federal means-tested benefit programs: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant programs, and Medicaid. Laws in place for the past 15 years restrict the eligibility of legal permanent residents (LPRs), refugees, asylees, and other noncitizens for most means-tested public aid. Noncitizens’ eligibility for major federal means-tested benefits largely depends on their immigration status; whether they arrived (or were on a program’s rolls) before August 22, 1996, the enactment date of P.L. 104-193; and how long they have lived and worked in the United States.

LPRs with a substantial work history or military connection are eligible for the full range of programs, as are asylees, refugees, and other humanitarian cases (for at least five to seven years after entry). Other LPRs must meet additional eligibility requirements. For SNAP, they generally must have been legally resident for five years or be under age 18. Under TANF and SSI, they generally are ineligible for five years after entry and then eligible at state option. States have the option of providing Medicaid to pregnant LPRs and children within the five-year bar. Unauthorized aliens (often referred to as illegal aliens) are not eligible for most federal benefits, regardless of whether they are means tested, with notable exceptions for emergency services, (e.g., Medicaid emergency medical care or Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster services).

TANF, SSI, food stamp, and Medicaid recipiency among noncitizens decreased over the 1995- 2005 period, but has inched upwards in 2011. While the 10-year decrease was affected by the statutory changes, the poverty rate of noncitizens had also diminished over the 1995-2005 decade. The poverty rate for noncitizens residing in the United States fell from 27.8% in 1995 to 20.4% in 2005. It has risen to 24.3% in 2011. Noncitizens are disproportionately poorer than native-born residents of the United States.



Date of Report: September 27, 2012
Number of Pages: 28
Order Number: RL33809
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