Sen. Schumer to unveil BRAINS Act, an immigration bill for tech talent

Sen Schumer plans BRAINS ActU.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) plans to unveil an immigration bill later today that would make it easier for high-skilled immigrants to work in the United States. The “BRAINS Act” — which, sadly, has nothing to do with the impending zombie apocalypse — would boost the number of green cards available to students born outside the U.S. who receive advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields from U.S. universities.

According to Schumer’s office, the BRAINS Act (a.k.a the Benefits to Research and American Innovation through Nationality Statutes Act) is needed to plug the gap in talent vital to the booming U.S. technology industry. While the bill would operate at the federal level, Schumer touts the benefits for New York City, a popular destination for immigrants, which is now home to hundreds of tech startups, including companies like Foursquare, Tumblr, Etsy, and Kickstarter, among many others.

Schumer’s office cites a study by the Center for an Urban Future (pdf), which highlights the “lack of top-tier engineers” as the “biggest barrier” to growth for New York City’s technology sector. The study recommends lawmakers “streamline the visa process and dramatically raise the federal cap on highly qualified immigrants.”

Schumer’s bill would provide 55,000 new green cards each year for foreign-born people who receive a master’s degree or higher in a STEM field from an U.S. university. Graduates must also have a job offer from a U.S. company in a STEM field to receive a green card under the bill. The BRAINS Act would also make it easier for students planning to study a STEM discipline in the U.S. to obtain a student visa.

“It makes no sense that America is educating the world’s smartest and most talented students and then, once they are at their full potential and mastered their craft, kicking them out the door,” said Schumer in a statement. “We should be encouraging every brilliant and well-educated immigrant to stay here, build a business here, create wealth here, employ people here, and grow our economy. Fixing our broken green card system will help ensure that the next eBay, the next Google, the next Intel will be started in New York City, not in Shanghai or Bangalore or London.”

The BRAINS Act will compete in Congress with a similar bill expected soon in the House from Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith (of SOPA infamy). Smith’s bill would provide up to the same number of green cards as Schumer’s legislation, but foreign-born students who earn a doctorate degree in a STEM discipline will have first dibs. Students who receive master’s degrees in eligible fields will have access to the remaining green cards.

While few lawmakers oppose the allocation of green cards for high-skilled immigrants, Smith’s bill has come under fire from Congressional Democrats because it would eliminate the diversity visa program, which makes visas available to people from countries with low immigration rates to the U.S., according to The Hill. The BRAINS Act does not eliminate the diversity visa program. The House is expected to vote on Smith’s bill next week.

Schumer will officially unveil the BRAINS Act at 3 p.m. ET today at the New York General Assembly in Manhattan.

Lead image via Center for an Urban Future; Schumer image via stocklight/Shutterstock

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