U.S. advised to digitize visa system

Automatic green cards suggested for math and science foreign students

The United States' immigration policy should be revamped to give priority to people with education and backgrounds in innovative technologies, according to a new policy brief issued by the Brookings Institution.

The change would require digitization of the visa system and strategic changes in visa policies affecting skilled workers, including automatic green cards for foreign students who graduate from math and science university programs here, wrote author Darrell West, director of the institute’s Center for Technology Innovation, in the paper released Jan. 12.

The infrastructure for considering and granting visas currently requires paper documents. A digital system would reduce errors and delays, West wrote.


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By putting less emphasis on family reunification and more on attracting highly skilled workers, the United States could follow the example of Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, the paper states. In Canada, 36 percent of the immigration visas granted are in the skilled worker category, compared with 6.5 percent in that category in the United States.

The paper also advocated increasing the number and availability of H-1B visas for foreign students who complete math and science degree programs in the United States. Typically, demand for those visas greatly exceeds supply.

“The United States should make it as easy as possible for those highly trained students to stay, since the expansion of job opportunities in India, China and other growth-oriented countries now offers them attractive options,” West wrote. “Our current counterproductive policy, quite simply, puts the United States in the position of training our global competitors.”

Other suggestions include:

  • Increasing the availability of EB-5 visas to foreigners who invest at least $500,000 in the nation’s rural or targeted employment areas or at least $1 million in other areas.
  • Increasing the availability of the O-1 visa program for people with extraordinary abilities in the arts, sciences, education, business or athletics.
  • Having Congress link overall annual levels of immigration to the unemployment rate and growth in the gross domestic product. Immigration levels could be adjusted up or down depending on economic conditions.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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