For over sixty years, Congress has successfully passed the bipartisan National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that provides critical funding for the Department of Defense, our nation’s intelligence programs, and other general defense activities. As a large and pricey vehicle, the NDAA also offers opportunities for Congress to include a broad range of different policy reforms within the bill. This time, Congress needs to include immigration bills that will help secure our nation.  

Although not an ideal solution to Congress’ struggle to pass legislation, lawmakers have historically used the NDAA to push their agendas. Concerns that these bills do not belong in the National Defense Authorization Act are misguided; this is not the first time immigration policy has been included in the NDAA.  What’s more, these particular bills are narrowly tailored with bipartisan support and have legitimate ties to national security. Now, the responsibility lies with the Senate to approve the bills as part of the NDAA to optimize U.S. innovation and national security. 

The National Security Innovations Pathway Act (NISPA), introduced by James Langevin (D-RI) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY), ensures the United States can attract and retain technological experts for national security purposes. This bill is an opportunity to capitalize on students’ talents while boosting productivity and competitiveness, and improving national security. As outlined by my colleague Matthew La Corte, it would provide the U.S. with numerous benefits without the political controversy of larger immigration reform. 

Currently, top-ranked universities in the U.S. can recruit foreign talent for college education and research efforts. Nevertheless, due to outdated visa requirements, most individuals end up returning to their home countries, abandoning their contributions to U.S. development. NISPA would provide a pathway to permanent residency for both students and professionals engaged in essential work that promotes and protects national security. The program is extremely limited, offering just 100 visas for the first fiscal year and 400 visas for the subsequent fiscal years. Not only must applicants be highly qualified individuals, but they must use those skills for jobs directed towards technological development that aids national security. 

The second bipartisan bill, the Improving Opportunities for New Americans Act, reintroduced this year by Representatives John Katko (R-NY) and Jason Crow (D-CO), examines factors impacting employment opportunities for skilled immigrants in the U.S. 

According to a study by MPI, nearly two million college-educated immigrants across the U.S. are either unemployed or underemployed. This phenomenon, known as “brain waste,” has cost the U.S. $39.4 billion in foregone earnings and $10.2 billion in lost tax revenue. Various factors create employment obstacles, including language barriers, lack of professional networks, and state licensing laws that either slow or prevent individuals from practicing in their field. 

This bill would address these challenges by directing the Department of Labor to study employment opportunities for those with professional credentials from other countries, including Afghan SIVs. Addressing the issue of underemployment for highly skilled immigrants would provide the U.S. with increased economic opportunities and help fill gaps in high-skilled fields such as healthcare and technology. 

The Senate must pass these bills as part of the National Defense Authorization Act to ensure the U.S. can attract, utilize, and retain top-tier international talent. Doing so would not only provide opportunities to recruit highly skilled individuals, but would assure their skills do not go to waste–enhancing our country’s strength in technology, innovation, and national security in the process.

Photo by Luke Michael on Unsplash