Further Examination of the Consequences of "Stapling" Provisions

By David North on July 25, 2013

It is time to take a closer look at the impact of the clauses in the currently pending immigration bills that would, in effect, staple a green card to the advanced STEM diploma of all aliens completing those degrees in the United States.

These provisions would cover aliens who secure either a doctorate or a master's degree in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) from an American educational institution. Though S. 744, as passed by the Senate, and H.R. 2131, as approved by the House Judiciary Committee, differ in detail, both would provide automatic green cards to such graduates. (For more on the House action see this recent blog of mine.)

In addition to flooding high-tech labor markets with needless extra workers, these provisions would reduce the average quality of such workers, and would encourage enrollment in third- and-fourth-rate U.S. educational institutions.

They also would remove the bracing cold shower of competition that is a component of the current system.

Currently there is an annual production of more than 50,000 advanced STEM degrees a year, about three quarters of these at the master's level, and the rest at the PhD level.

What happens to them, immigration-wise, under the current situation?

First, a modest number from some (prosperous) countries such as Saudi Arabia, Japan, and, increasingly, Taiwan, go home and prosper there. Second, most of the PhDs stay here under current law. After these two sortings, there remain a large number of persons with STEM master's degrees; the best of these are hired in the United States and many eventually get green cards, though after years of waiting; most of the lesser ones go home or on to third countries.

So, what would happen if the pending bills were to become law? It would have little impact on the degree holders from the prosperous nations or the PhDs; their patterns would remain the same. But it would allow the retention in the United States of everyone who manages to secure a master's degree; there would be no competition to get H-1B visas or green cards, as everyone would get the green card automatically.

This would, in turn, mean two things: the less talented people who currently are not staying because they have not impressed an employer, would probably stay anyway, and further, more people with enough money to cover tuition, room, and board for two years would come to the United States for master's degrees and the sure green card. The average level of quality would fall, and we would not get any more of the "best and the brightest" because we are, in all probability, getting them already.

High-tech employers, a group that Congress pays much attention to, would welcome the extra workers, partially because they might hire some of them, but mostly because the flocks of them would tend to lower wages in the whole industry. The less prestigious master's programs would welcome this development because it would bring them more paying customers (grad students).

That this would be hard on resident workers (both citizens and green card holders) engaged in the high-tech field will, of course, be ignored by the politicians, because they are unorganized and powerless.

Neither the Senate nor the House bill requires that the people with the new advanced degrees must work in high tech — a job at Radio Shack or McDonald's will do, so the staple provisions will create yet another way that alien families can buy their way into the United States, in this case the only sorting process will be that the would-be purchaser of a green card (via a master's degree) will need an overseas bachelor's degree.

A table showing how some of these impacts will work out can be seen below.


Impacts of Current Law and "Staple Bill" Aspects of S. 744 (If Passed)


Impact or Expected impact: Current System S. 744 as Passed by Senate
On alien students' school choices Seeks best he can afford so as to impress potential employers Many will seek the cheapest
Total number of alien students in the U.S. at one time Reduced to those who think an advanced degree will get them a high-tech job in America Expanded to all who can afford the tuition and other costs
On educational institutions System steers students to better institutions System steers students to cheaper institutions
On levels of migration Limited to those who can get an H-1B visa or a green card Open to all degree-holders who can get a job of any kind, including at McDonald's
On wage levels for advanced degree holders, both residents and aliens Depressing Very depressing
Rewards go to: Aliens with talent, money (for tuition), and a bachelor's degree Aliens with money (for tuition) and a bachelor's degree