Biden changes visas to retain more foriegn STEM workers. More action needed.

The Biden Administration changed US visas to retain foreign STEM students in the United States, adding 22 new eligible degree fields last Friday, Jan. 21. These new fields included data science and financial analytics.

STEM industries should celebrate these additions and encourage more of them to attract and retain foreign students and encourage US-born students to choose STEM fields. The US has a long-term labor shortage that will continue throughout the 2020s. More action is needed to overcome the scarcity and make the US more competitive against China.

Other changes being considered by the Biden administration are increasing the number of visas available and expanding visa eligibility. Both need to be passed by Congress. These changes are being supported by the US Chamber of Commerce, which also wants much more to be done.

In addition, it would be epic if President Biden called for the US to be the leaders in STEM innovation by the end of the decade like President John F Kenedy did with the space race in the 1960s. His call (with tuition grants and curriculum changes) would inspire young Americans to pursue STEM college degrees and careers and accelerate innovation with basic and applied science in biotech, pharma, high-tech, clean energy, and space exploration. With your help, we can do it.

Please show your support, whatever your political strips, by contacting your members of Congress and the President today.

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. (I like to also include medical fields in the “M” for medical staff, as the US has a huge shortage of medical staff, including more than 1.2 million RN nurses.)

When we was hiring 650 employees over eighteen months at Medtronic’s businesses in Santa Rosa, California, in the mid-2000s, our recruiting team would not have been successful without legally hiring immigrants. This included both low-skilled positions as well as the highly-skilled roles of marketing, statisticians, engineers, scientists, regulatory affairs, and clinical research professionals.

We hired many of these needed skilled workers as graduates from America’s best national and regional universities, such as Johns Hopkins, San Diego State University, and California Polytechnic State University, and MBAs from our top MBA universities, such as Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, and Kellogg. Most of the students we hired were born overseas, earned student visas to come to the United States and had been accepted in our best universities. They had outstanding academic achievement that had been complemented with fantastic internships. We hired them using an H-1B visa, and we often sponsored their US citizenship.

We hired them because we could not find enough US citizens for many of our STEM openings.

At the time, we executives talked about this as the Brain Drain, the draining of the best minds from China, Europe, and Southeast Asia, who preferred to work in the United States because of our civil liberties, civil rights, and relatively low levels of corruption. This, despite the ties with their families and Indigenous cultures. We imported highly skilled, hardworking, savvy young people who would earn more money and pay more taxes than average Americans. The success of Medtronic’s Santa Rosa businesses would not have been possible without them.

Now the United States faces the Reverse Brain Drain. It will hurt our economy as US-trained university graduates return to their countries of origin or migrate to Canada due to a lack of US work visas and because their home country economies are getting better. The lack of adequate visas in STEM is hurting the ability of US companies in the United States to hire STEM workers.

In 2017, immigrants made up 22 percent of the students pursuing STEM degrees in US universities, but this number has steadily declined in recent years. Immigrants help drive US innovation and entrepreneurialism. They also provide many benefits to the US economy. They tend to be more entrepreneurial, make the workforce younger, and pay more taxes. In 2019, immigrant entrepreneurs made up 21.7 percent of all business owners in the United States and 38.6 percent in California, despite making up just over 13.6 percent of the population and 17.1 percent of the U.S. labor force.

Immigrants improve the age distribution of the United States, making the US workforce younger, and can help generate the taxes required to reduce America’s long-term debt, which largely goes to paying for Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security obligations.

The US needs to do more to have its students pursue STEM degrees. Pew Research has found that about half of young people don’t pursue STEM degrees because they find the courses too difficult. The National Science Foundation is encouraging four initiatives:

  1. Emphasize the high-paying jobs in STEM.
  2. Nurture more of the millions of Americans from underrepresented groups to pursue college and STEM degrees.
  3. Create an environment of encouragement and care for all STEM students once they arrive on campus.
  4. Make STEM courses more hands-on and focused on real world problems for all students.

In addition, STEM industries can play a significant role. For example, At Medtronic and Honeywell Space Systems, we encouraged young students to pursue STEM by donating equipment to universities, tutoring students in high schools and universities, and providing scholarships and internships. Our effort included special reach-outs to underrepresented groups.

The US needs to overcome its long-term labor shortage and increase the percentage of students pursuing STEM careers. Our national economic competitiveness depends on it. Write your congress member and the President today – and expand what your company can do to encourage our young people to pursue STEM degrees.

Learn how to hire in a tight labor market

Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and managing partner of InnovationOne.. He works with companies to transform HR and recruiting, implement remote work, and develop extraordinary leaders, teams, and innovation cultures. He is the author of the highly acclaimed book, Hack Recruiting: the Best of Empirical Research, Method and Process, and Digitization. Subscribe to his weekly blogs at 


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