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Why Immigration is Crucial for the U.S. STEM Industry

Feb 12, 2024

HR person during audit process.

In an increasingly technology-driven economy, science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) roles are growing rapidly in the United States. According to LinkedIn’s report on the 25 fastest-growing jobs in the U.S. today, the STEM industry has boomed in the last two decades and has paved the way for new roles that go beyond just computer science or software engineering. 

With increased demand industry-wide and the emergence of highly-skilled roles that require the world’s best talent, that’s where immigration comes in. To set themselves apart in a competitive market, more companies in the STEM industry are hiring internationally and taking advantage of the many work visas available in the U.S. immigration system. Here’s how companies can capitalize on recent government policies and help more foreign STEM workers jumpstart their careers in the U.S.

New and Improved Opportunities for STEM Students and Interns

Over the last few years, the Biden administration has taken steps to boost the country’s STEM talent through international exchange programs. In January 2022, the Department of State (DOS) announced several measures to increase the flow of talent in STEM fields to bolster the U.S. economy. 

One of the most important measures announced was the creation of the Early Career STEM Research Initiative, which connects J-1 visa program sponsors with U.S. businesses that have STEM-related training or research positions. The DOS also launched new initiatives to foster international collaboration in the STEM industry, particularly for women in STEM and international trainees working in science labs around the U.S.

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Updated Immigration Rules Mean More Visa Approvals for STEM Workers

In addition to initiatives that attract more STEM students and interns, more foreign workers in the STEM industry are now being approved for green cards, according to the latest data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). 

The uptick in green card approvals comes after USCIS amended their eligibility criteria for two visa categories available to STEM workers: O-1A visas (for those with extraordinary ability or achievement in their field) and EB-2 visas with a national interest waiver. USCIS’ updated guidance has made the eligibility requirements for each visa type much clearer and has allowed more STEM workers to pursue alternative immigration options that may not have been available to them before.  

When asked about the spike in STEM green card approvals, Doug Rand, senior adviser to the USCIS director, said the change is a welcome improvement in the business immigration system. “The more people know about things like the O-1A and the [EB-2] national interest waiver, the more people will want to take advantage of them.”

In the first year of the revised guidance, the number of O-1A visas approved jumped by almost 30%. The number of STEM EB-2 visas issued with a national interest waiver also shot up by 55% when compared to the previous year. 

The updated guidance means a higher percentage of the world’s best tech talent is able to establish their lives and careers in the U.S., transforming the U.S. STEM industry for the better. “I’m seeing more aspiring and early-stage startup founders believe there’s a way forward for them,” says Sophie Alcorn, an immigration attorney who works in Silicon Valley. Alcorn says the policy changes will result in “new technology startups that would not have otherwise been created.”

An immigrant submits biometrics data

The Rise of AI: How Immigration Fits In

In the U.S., the STEM industry has witnessed a transformative wave with the emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Over the past decade, AI has become an integral component across various sectors within STEM, revolutionizing processes, research, and innovation.

As AI continues to evolve, its role in shaping the future of STEM industries in the U.S. is becoming increasingly prominent, fostering a new era of technological advancement and scientific exploration. 

In November 2023, President Biden signed an AI executive order to tackle this burgeoning industry and make it easier for U.S. businesses to attract foreign AI talent. The executive order included a series of proposals to reduce barriers to STEM immigration, including the establishment of a “Global AI Talent Attraction Program,” streamlined visa services for STEM workers, and updating and expanding the skills list for J-1 exchange visitors to include more AI-focused roles. 

You can learn more about Biden’s AI executive order and how it can help improve the STEM industry in Boundless’ post.

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