Labor Shortage Requires International Talent

Technology is now the critical driver impacting all industries and communities in Iowa. By investing in innovation, America has made great strides in areas like precision agriculture, advanced manufacturing, computing, and engineering. All of this allows us to produce more efficiently and sustainably than ever before.






Brian Lohse, State Representative

Chairman of the IT committee

Iowa House of Representatives


However, a shortage of highly skilled labor threatens to halt that progress as U.S. businesses struggle to attract science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) talent. As global competitors widen this growing labor gap by attracting U.S.-trained workers, federal lawmakers must set aside partisan politics and fix the flaws in our legal immigration system so that the labor force -American workforce can benefit from their talent.

While a shortage of jobs in STEM fields is not unique to Iowa, the problem persists here. Iowa’s shortage of highly skilled workers is pressing, as our state has a staggering ratio of open STEM jobs to unemployed STEM jobs close to 60:1.

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Gov. Kim Reynolds is currently leading an advisory council to increase Iowan’s interest in STEM fields — while that’s a good step, it’s a long-term strategy. We also need actions that will show results fast enough to help our state and our country today.

Take Iowa’s universities and colleges, which are working to expand STEM fields, investing in programs to train students in agricultural engineering and biochemistry, computer science, and horticulture, among other studies. However, due to our outdated international talent retention policies, they devote time and resources to expanding the education of international students without allowing those students to then complement the US workforce and create even more jobs. jobs for our communities.

Among STEM PhDs graduating in 2012-2015 nationwide, only 37% were able to receive green cards or naturalize as US citizens by 2017, while 19% had to leave the country and 44% had temporary visas. Stay rates among international STEM doctoral students. the number of beneficiaries is decreasing as well as the number of international student enrolments.

Other countries are now actively profiting from our losses. Between 2017 and 2019, the number of highly skilled workers living in the United States who entered Canada through its skilled immigration program increased by at least 128%. China now graduates far more advanced STEM graduates from its universities each year than the United States and is expected to nearly double the US STEM doctorate. production by 2025. Not only is China retaining these graduates and using them to build its own workforce, but it is also turning to the graduate talent we are pushing out of the United States

We are now competitively behind in areas critical to protecting our national security. Nearly 82% of companies in the defense industrial base report that it is difficult to find qualified STEM workers. A recent Department of Defense report concludes that “manpower challenges and talent availability are a key concern.” Yet we continue to shut out foreign-born, US-educated talent who wants to stay in the United States, gain legal citizenship, and contribute to our economy.

Fortunately, Congress appears to be taking advantage of a genuine bipartisan opportunity to keep these workers here through the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) fiscal year. The House approved the NDAA by a vote of 329 to 101 with a passed amendment proposed by Rhode Island Rep. Jim Langevin that allows the admission of essential scientists and technical specialists to “promote and protect this security innovation base national”.

Rep. Langevin’s amendment is a big step in the right direction, but Iowa still needs more clout to retain international talent. The Senate has the opportunity in its review of the NDAA to revisit the COMPETES Act proposals to repeal caps on green cards for the most talented STEM workers. These people, although they were not born in the United States, are educated in our universities and want to stay here for the benefit of American companies in critical sectors.

Critics say the provision could create competition between Americans and foreign-born workers for jobs. This would not be true for Iowa, nor for the United States. Retaining these skilled workers would actually supplement the national workforce by helping it grow and helping American workers upgrade. Over time, this means more production and more jobs at all skill levels. It’s a clear way to use the talents of STEM workers not to replace American workers, but rather to grow our economy and provide more prosperity for American families.

Talent retention is the main obstacle to the rise of the American economy. We must prevent what is now a national security vulnerability from turning into a full-fledged Achilles’ heel that will help the Chinese Communist Party. Our legislators have an opportunity to nip this problem in the bud if they only recognize the tangible benefits of highly skilled foreign labor separately from the larger, partisan issue of immigration.

Republican Brian Lohse is the state representative for District 30 and chairman of the Iowa IT Committee.

Michael A. Bynum