Immigration reform: STEM visa program a 'broken system'

SEATTLE - Immigration reform is an issue that often includes the emotional debate about undocumented workers, but there's another piece of the puzzle that's creating headaches and heartaches for some of the region's most promising young minds.

"I come from Mumbai, India," Maithili Gupte says.

Gupte has a master's degree in biology, and works as a cancer researcher in Seattle. She spent years learning bio-tech in America, but she may be forced to leave after her extended student visa expires in February.

Attorney Tahmina Watson says Gupte is one of tens of thousands of so-called STEM professionals with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math, that the U.S. sends home every year because there aren't enough STEM visas.

"We have a systemic brain drain problem at the moment and we need to fix that," Attorney Tahmina Watson says.

While much of the immigration debate has centered on the fate of millions of undocumented workers, Attorney Watson - herself a newly minted US citizen - says America needs STEM professionals because we don't produce enough workers on our own.

"Immigration reform is essential to the economic growth of this country, and we need STEM degreed and highly-skilled professionals to be able to help do that," Watson says.

Microsoft is one powerhouse example of the need. A quick search of its available software engineering jobs shows well over five hundred positions - many open since September or October.

Congresswoman Suzan DelBene agrees STEM professionals are critical to growing the economy.

"It's a broken system I think everyone acknowledges that," Congresswoman Suzan DelBene says. "I think it's very important to make sure our companies are competitive, globally competitive, to make sure they have the talent moving forward."

She co-sponsored a comprehensive reform bill in the House, similar to what the Senate has already passed. But Speaker John Boehner hasn't allowed a vote, insisting that smaller, piecemeal bills will give members a better opportunity for thorough review.

"Let's understand something, I want us to deal with this issue, but I want to deal with it in a common sense, step-by-step way," Speaker of the House John Boehner says.

But while the House argues over approach, STEM professionals like Maithili Gupte run out of time.

"I really believe I can contribute to the field of science, and I'm very passionate about it," Gupte says. "I think I should at least get a chance."