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Immigration Law

No Immigrants, No Chips

Brendan Bordelon, Eleanor Mueller, Politico, July 31, 2022

"[E]ven as Biden signs into law more than $52 billion in “incentives” designed to lure chipmakers to the U.S., an unusual alliance of industry lobbyists, hard-core China hawks and science advocates says the president’s dream lacks a key ingredient — a small yet critical core of high-skilled workers. It’s a politically troubling irony: To achieve the long-sought goal of returning high-end manufacturing to the United States, the country must, paradoxically, attract more foreign workers.

“For high-tech industry in general — which of course, includes the chip industry — the workforce is a huge problem,” said Julia Phillips, a member of the National Science Board. “It’s almost a perfect storm.”

From electrical engineering to computer science, the U.S. currently does not produce enough doctorates and master’s degrees in the science, technology, engineering and math fields who can go on to work in U.S.-based microchip plants. Decades of declining investments in STEM education means the U.S. now produces fewer native-born recipients of advanced STEM degrees than most of its international rivals.

Foreign nationals, including many educated in the U.S., have traditionally filled that gap. But a bewildering and anachronistic immigration system, historic backlogs in visa processing and rising anti-immigrant sentiment have combined to choke off the flow of foreign STEM talent precisely when a fresh surge is needed.

Powerful members of both parties have diagnosed the problem and floated potential fixes. But they have so far been stymied by the politics of immigration, where a handful of lawmakers stand in the way of reforms few are willing to risk their careers to achieve. With a short window to attract global chip companies already starting to close, a growing chorus is warning Congress they’re running out of time.

“These semiconductor investments won’t pay off if Congress doesn’t fix the talent bottleneck,” said Jeremy Neufeld, a senior immigration fellow at the Institute for Progress think tank."