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How immigration reform might also spur young Americans to study math, science

Measures in immigration reform legislation would channel fees from high-skilled visas into investments for American students to delve into science, technology, engineering, and math.

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Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, confers with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, right, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., left, as the Senate Judiciary Committee meets to address immigration reform on Capitol Hill. Sen. Hatch's amendment would provide for more STEM teachers for K-12, encourage an emphasis on computer science, and improve community-college and worker-training programs.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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Tucked into immigration reform legislation in both chambers of Congress are little-noticed measures that could pump hundreds of millions of dollars into cultivating a new generation of American students interested in science, technology, engineering, and math (or STEM). Such a move could help shore up what much of corporate America and many lawmakers see as a glaring deficiency in the nation’s long-term economic competitiveness.

The bills offer at least $200 million per year (but perhaps as much as $700 million, advocates say) by channeling fees from high-skilled visas into investments in STEM education and job training.

Specifically, legislators would increase the fee that employers pay to sponsor high-skilled temporary workers (visas known as H-1Bs) and direct $1,000 of that bump toward a special “STEM fund.” The fund would also be supported by an additional $1,000 cost to employers looking to sponsor H-1B workers for permanent residence in the United States.

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While some argue that it may be counterproductive to boost H-1B visas, few disagree with the premise of more STEM education. Lawmakers and advocates say this funding plan forces companies that decry a shortage of US-born STEM workers to put their money where their mouth is.

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