“I’m a DREAM Act supporter,” Kaine said at a small-business roundtable discussion in Rosslyn,Va.,a business district just across the Potomac River from Washington. “We want youngsters who are in this country not to be locked into underachievement,but to be overachievers. They’ll create more opportunities for others if they can have that status.”
The Development,Relief and Education for Alien Minors – or DREAM – Act would offer legal residence to undocumented young adults who were brought to the U.S. as children and who are in college or in the military. The bill has been defeated numerous times in Congress.
Sen. Chris Coons,D-Del.,who endorsed Kaine during the roundtable event,said strict visa policy has led to a “brain drain” in STEM fields – science,technology,engineering,and mathematics.
“If you look at the top 10 bioscience universities in the world,we are steadily losing altitude to universities in the U.K.,Australia,and other parts of the world because we’ve got foreign nationals who previously would have been doing their graduate work and staying here – they’re going over there instead because of the restrictions,” Coons said.
Kaine said his plan for economic growth would consider visa reform. Of particular interest at the roundtable discussion was a plan that would extend the time foreign students would have to seek work.
Currently,foreign nationals have one year after earning their degrees,but if they’re not offered an H-1B visa by their employer,they must leave the country. H-1B visas are given to foreign workers with specialized knowledge – usually in the sciences – that allows them to stay in the United States for three years. The visa can be extended to a maximum of six years.
“There’s no reason to bring the best minds here and have them get degrees,and then chase them away,” Kaine said.
Coons warned that unless the United States removes some of the barriers to obtaining visas,foreign talent will set up jobs and companies in more receptive nations.
“Fifty years ago,20 years ago,having to go back to South Korea,to India or to China meant far less opportunity to start and run a company,” Coons said. “We are in a global war for talent,and we’re acting like we’re not.”
“When you talk about job creators,it’s not the big guys,it’s the startup and small business culture,” Kaine said.
Raj Naik,vice president of uKnow.com, a startup that monitors children’s online activity and protects them from predators and bullying,has worked on three startups in 13 years and said each of those businesses depends on engineers from abroad.
“The country as a whole is suffering from unemployment,but really,with certain math and engineering jobs,it’s hard to find people that are qualified here in the states,so you’ve got to look elsewhere,” Naik said.
“I’d rather hire someone here locally,but they just aren’t here,” Naik said. “If we had things like the DREAM Act in place,then there’d be more talent here that I could pull from.”
Reach reporter Jory Heckman at [email protected] or 202-326-9868. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.