Public Policy Briefing
ASCB fights to protect H1-B Visas
Since taking office, the Trump Administration has agitated for immigration reform, even launching the “Buy American, Hire American” Executive Order in April to encourage the U.S. government and private companies to favor American produts and workers.
Many members of Congress, incentivized by this attitude, have introduced legislation aimed at reforming various aspects of the complex U.S. immigration code. The H-1B visa process, in particular, has gained special attention from legislators due to tales of it being exploited to undercut American workers, while professional societies, including the ASCB, worry that modifications in the program will adversely affect their members.
In light of potential changes to the H-1B visa program, ASCB’s public policy team has been meeting with various congressional offices, such as those of Senator Chuck Grassley
(R-IA) and Representative Erik Paulsen (R-MN), to discuss proposed legislation.
These offices have received ASCB’s white paper on immigration,1 which advocates easing foreign travel by H-1B visa holders and matching visa durations with training times, among other recommendations.
Most bills, including those introduced by both of these members of Congress, seek to provide an easier route to the United States for nonimmigrants who have obtained a PhD from a U.S. institution of higher education. Nonimmigrants who received their degree in any of the STEM fields would be especially favored.
Of concern to the ASCB is the possibility that legislation may reduce the approved period of stay for H-1B visa holders. Presently nonimmigrants are permitted to stay for six years with the possibility of extension. Some bills, like Sen. Grassley’s, would reduce that period to three years with maximum extensions totaling six years.
The ASCB is working to ensure that the concerns of our members and the biomedical community are heard during debates about damaging provisions such as these.
If you or other members of your lab have had any relevant experiences navigating H-1B visa program, please contact Kevin Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org. —Lily Werlinich, Public Policy Intern
Science Funding Faring Better in Congress than in the Trump Budget
With media and public attention turned to the battle over ObamaCare taking place on the Senate side of Capitol Hill, appropriations subcommittees in the House quietly started their work on the FY18 federal budget during July. The work by the House is the first step of a long congressional budget process, but the news for the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) so far is that funding levels could be significantly better than those requested by the Trump Administration.
Under the House bill, the NIH’s FY18 budget, which was slated for an $8.6 billion cut in the Trump budget proposal, is set to receive a $1.1 billion increase from its FY17 budget. This is short of the $2 billion increases the NIH has been receiving for each of the last two years. However, Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), a strong supporter of the NIH and chair of the House subcommittee that funds the agency, said he hoped the $1.1 billion would serve as a floor for future negotiations with the Senate that could result in a larger final budget.
The NSF budget, which the Trump Administration wanted to reduce by 10%, is reduced to $7.3 billion, only $133 million below the FY17 actual budget.
Other areas of federal science are also doing better than originally feared. Within the Department of Energy, the Office of Science, which was targeted for a 17% cut in the Trump budget proposal, is seeing slight increases from FY17 in both the House and Senate versions of its FY18 budget. Medical & Prosthetic Research at the Department of Veterans Affairs, slated to be cut by 5% by the administration, will see respectable increases in both the House and the Senate.
Some federal programs, particularly those that are being tied to climate change research, are still in the budget crosshairs. At the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, with a proposed 32% cut, is cut by 7.7% by the House. The NOAA program responsible for weather satellites, with a 17% proposed cut by the administration, is inexplicably cut by over 22% by the House.—Kevin Wilson