03/25/2013 05:43 pm ET Updated May 25, 2013

Poultry Scientists Get Green Cards, MBAs Get the Boot

Do you think someone with an MS in Poultry Science from Kansas State University should be ahead in line to get a U.S. green card compared to a Stanford or Harvard MBA?

That is what Congress is likely to propose next month judging by the trends in immigration reform proposals and the current state of the debate.

Nearly all recent skilled immigration reform proposals have been centered on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) degrees. Contrary to common perception, STEM is not a narrow category of subjects that is focused on attracting the top nuclear physicists and rocket scientists from around the world. STEM is also not a tailored list of professions in short supply in the U.S. STEM includes 400+ majors such as Animal and Dairy Science, Livestock Management, and Poultry Science among others. STEM is also extremely arbitrary -- while business-related disciplines such as Econometrics, Business Statistics, and Management Science are included in STEM, an MBA is excluded. (The official DHS list of STEM programs is here.) It is clear that STEM is neither a targeted list for the needs of the U.S. economy nor a set of thoughtfully selected disciplines.

There is more to this. Immigration reform legislation is expected to include not just the top 10 or top 50 or even the top 100 schools -- it is expected to cover more than 200 schools across the country. Washington bills usually specify that new VISA rules apply to graduates of STEM degrees from specified lists of universities. These lists are based on the 1965 Higher Education Act designations, Carnegie Foundation classifications, and categorizations from the National Science Foundation. As an example, the House recently passed (a now dead) piece of legislation around STEM VISA reform (STEM Jobs Act). In this Act, the House indicated that any doctorate-granting university with a high or very high level of research as classified by the Carnegie Foundation should be included in the STEM VISA reforms. I went to the Carnegie Foundation website to try and understand what this list would be. I came up with a list of 206 universities that I have uploaded here.

That is why it is quite likely that the reforms we will end up with will allow someone who has an MS in Poultry Science from Kansas State University to gain priority in the immigration process over someone with a Stanford or Harvard MBA. This is utterly foolish -- top MBA graduates should have at least the same VISA priorities as their colleagues studying Poultry Science, Animal & Dairy Science or Livestock Management.

The negative economic and societal implications of such proposals are also self-evident. These will distort human capital markets with international students getting degrees in disciplines they may not ultimately work in or care about. U.S. companies will lose out on international managerial talent in an increasingly globalizing economy. Many dozens of entrepreneurs that graduate each year from business school campuses will choose to build their companies and generate jobs overseas.

Immigration policies should reward merit: not only should we retain MBAs from coveted business schools such as Stanford and Harvard, but we should also retain Yale JDs, Kennedy School MPPs and even MFAs from the famed University of Iowa Writing Program. We cannot exclude these high potential graduates from the most reputed U.S. educational programs while rolling out the red carpet and offering green cards to graduates of 400+ programs from 200+ universities.

To read more articles by Dinkar, click here.

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