On Friday, July 13th, the Woodrow Wilson Center held an event titled “Universities, High Skilled Immigration, and Regulatory Reform: Implication for America’s Economic Future.” The focus of the discussion was the Start-Up Act 2.0 (S. 3217), legislation that would create a STEM visa program so that U.S.-educated foreign students who graduate with a master’s or a doctorate in science, technology, engineering or mathematics can receive a green card, and an Entrepreneur’s Visa for legal immigrants so that they can remain in the United States.

In particular, the panel was put together to help stimulate discussion about the provisions of the act that are meant to facilitate the “commercialization of university research, the regulating of start-up companies, and the broadening of opportunities for temporary immigrants with post-graduate degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to eventually qualify for permanent residency visas.”

The panel was made up of four speakers, three of whom gave opening statements. Kent Hughes (Director, Program on America and the Global Economy) facilitated the discussion and served as moderator. Jim Woodell (Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities), Karthick Ramakrishnan (University of California-Riverside) and Joseph Kennedy (US Dept. of Commerce) all participated in the panel discussion.

The discussion opened with a statement from Jim Woodell, in which he espoused the importance of technology transfer legislation, and emphasized how carefully this legislation must be crafted so that it has only the intended effects, and no other unintentional side effects.
Woodell went on to speak about Section 8 of the Start-Up Act, saying that although it is important to support the commercialization of research that comes out of our Universities, the way that the Start-Up Act approaches it circumvents the Technology Transfer Offices at these Universities. The “free agent” clause of the Act allows for individuals to seek commercialization outside of their University, and could in turn discourage Universities from supporting the growth of research and innovation.
As the discussion continued, Karthick Ramakrishnan made a statement in which he voiced his support of the Act because it includes a provision to incentivize those students who are allowed to immigrate to the United States on a visa for a Masters or PhD stay and work in the US after they have completed their education. Ramakrishnan noted that without this provision, there could be a reverse “brain-drain” effect in which we import students to the United States to study, but then lose them again to jobs outside of our borders.

Finally, Joseph Kennedy made remarks in which he made clear his view that the issue of immigration in reference to education is hampered by far too many regulations. However, he did praise Section 9 of the Act, which requires any agency to go through an extensive cost-benefit analysis before imposing any new regulations or rules. Additionally, they must fully analyze all alternatives to the policy they are proposing, and consider the possibility of failure and what that would entail.
You can find a video recording of the briefing here.