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Obama pushes immigration reform to retain S&T expertise

President Obama renewed his call for immigration reform that would enable highly skilled foreigners with scientific and technological expertise to stay and work in the US, in his 21 January Inaugural Address.

“Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity,” Obama stated. “Until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.”

Various legislative proposals have been introduced before Congress to fast-track or increase the number of visas and green cards granted to high-skilled immigrants. For example, the STEM jobs bill, which passed the House of Representatives at the end of November, would reallocate the 55,000 visas designated under the Diversity Immigrant Visa programme to foreign-born students with graduate degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields from US universities. However, the measure stalled in the Senate.

Discussing immigration legislation in November, Obama said: “The business community continues to be concerned about getting enough high-skill workers, and I am a believer that if you’ve got a PhD in physics or computer science who wants to stay here and start a business here, we shouldn’t make it harder for him to stay here.”

During his inaugural address, the newly re-elected president also emphasised the importance of collective action to, among other things, train more maths and science teachers and build the research labs and other infrastructure that will “bring new jobs and businesses to our shores”.

The president also discussed climate change. “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms,” Obama stated. The US must lead the global transition to sustainable energy sources, he said.

“We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise,” the president said. “That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure—our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow-capped peaks.”