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By Tawanda W. Johnson
APS members are tenaciously doing their part to highlight the importance of the Keep STEM Talent Act of 2019, which would allow students to proclaim “dual intent,” provide green cards to international students who earn advanced STEM degrees at US institutions, and secure job offers from US employers in fields related to their degrees.
“International students and visiting scholars play a critical role in our theoretical physics research group’s efforts. We need to continue the flow of top talent into STEM fields, which benefits our research agenda, as well as academia and industry after they graduate,” said James Vary, physics professor at Iowa State University. “Two out of three of my graduate students came to Iowa State from abroad to earn their PhDs.”
Vary was among a dozen APS members from across the country who met in their home states with congressional staffers representing their senators who sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which currently has jurisdiction over the Keep STEM Talent Act of 2019. They attended meetings in the offices of US Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC); Mike Lee (R-UT); and Chuck Grassley (R-IA).
During the meetings, APS members shared experiences about long delays they’ve encountered trying to obtain green cards, after spending a considerable amount of time studying at US institutions. US-born scientists also informed the staffers about the benefits of working with international scientists. Additionally, APS members explained that it made sense for international students to keep their talent and skills in America, where they could contribute to the country that invested in them.
“We met with Carol Olson [Grassley’s state director] and Adam DoBraska [Grassley’s regional director] for more than hour, though we were scheduled for only half an hour. The meeting was very successful,” recalled Vary.
Callie Pruett, APS Grassroots Advocacy Associate, said the APS Office of Government Affairs (APS OGA), was thrilled to help prepare the APS members for their meetings.
“The teams put in a lot of work. They participated in multiple team conference calls, honed their personal narratives and worked together to ensure that their meetings ran smoothly,” she said, adding that the next goal is to work toward a bipartisan bill. US Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) sponsored the legislation, which is currently co-sponsored by all Democrats.
Pruett explained that highly trained STEM graduates are greatly needed throughout the US, especially in the states visited by APS members.
“In Iowa, there are 12,000 open STEM jobs; in North Carolina, there are 31,000; and in Utah, there are 6,000,” she said.
Last year, a survey conducted by APS OGA of 49 of the largest graduate physics programs in the US revealed that the percentage of international students applying declined by an average of 12 percent from 2017 to 2018. In response, APS members worked with APS OGA to write op-eds and meet with congressional staffers, both locally and in Washington, DC, in an effort to persuade lawmakers to address the issue. Additionally, APS leadership has met with key officials representing various agencies, including the State Department, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, Commerce Department and Department of Defense.
To further probe issues related to visa policies, APS OGA recently partnered with the APS Office of International Affairs, the Forum on Graduate Student Affairs, and the Forum for Early Career Scientists to develop an anonymous survey to gauge the opinions of international graduate students and early career physicists. Nearly 700 international members responded to the survey.
One of the questions asked: “What specific issues did you run into while obtaining a student visa?” More than a quarter of respondents reported encountering challenges with obtaining a student visa. Among those issues included were time delays, expensive visa fees and difficulty proving intent to return to one’s home country. Of those who reported having a time delay, 80 percent of them said the delay lasted more than one month.
Francis Slakey, APS Chief Government Affairs Officer, said information from the meetings, combined with the survey results, will be instrumental in helping APS OGA achieve its policy goals.
“We look forward to continuing to work with APS members, as well as developing surveys, to generate key data to keep APS in the forefront of addressing issues that are important to our membership,” he said.
To show your support for the Keep STEM Talent Act, visit the APS OGA Advocacy webpage.
The author is the APS Senior Press Secretary.
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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondent: Alaina G. Levine
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