Although a broad consensus is starting to emerge on the outline of the so-called “STEM visa”, the STEM Act, not yet voted into law, represents the most detailed and specific version yet. Like other versions, the STEM Act envisions a green card for 55,000 people per year with advanced STEM degrees from US universities. These 55,000 visas would come at the expense of visas allowed under the Diversity Visa Program the so-called “visa lottery”).

The bill is considered likely to pass the House of Representatives, although approval by the Senate looks less certain. If both houses of Congress pass it, however, it seems all but certain that Biden would sign it. Following are some details of its content (keep in mind that it is still subject to redrafting before it is voted on). Like other versions, biology degrees are not considered STEM degrees, and labor certification will be required of all candidates.

Employer Sponsorship

A STEM visa candidate would not be able to apply for a visa on his own, no matter how stellar his qualifications might be. Instead, an employer must sponsor the candidate for the visa.

Eligibility Rules for PhD candidates

A Ph.D. candidate must:

  • Have taken all coursework while physically present in the US (no online courses from abroad are allowed, even from a US university);
  • Be granted a doctorate in a STEM subject;
  • Be sponsored by a petitioning employer;
  • Obtain labor certification; and
  • Agree to work in the US for at least five years (likely for the petitioning employer).

Eligibility Rules for Master’s Degree Candidates

A master’s degree candidate must:

  • Be granted a master’s degree requiring at least two years of full-time study in a STEM field;
  • Majored in a STEM field as an undergraduate;
  • Have taken all coursework while physically present in the US (no online courses from abroad are allowed, even from a US university);
  • Be sponsored by a petitioning employer;
  • Obtain labor certification; and
  • Agree to work in the US for at least five years (likely for the petitioning employer).

Master’s degree candidates would be considered for STEM visas only after all PhD candidates have been considered and either accepted or rejected.

What is a “Qualified University”?

You won’t be able to qualify for a STEM visa with a degree from just any university. The university must meet certain criteria:

  • It must be accredited;
  • It must be at least 10 years old;
  • It must qualify for federal student financial aid programs;
  • The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching or the National Science Foundation must have classified the institution as a doctorate-granting institution with a high level of research; and
  • It must not pay people to recruit foreign students for their student body.

Many, many public and private universities qualify under the foregoing criteria.

Labor Certification

The US Department of Labor would require sponsoring employers to establish that no US worker is “available, ready, and willing” to take the job. The requirements for proving this are considerably less demanding than other labor certifications that result in the grant of a green card — the employer must simply post a help wanted ad with the appropriate state workforce agency and receive negative results.

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