It’s an immigration question that has less to do with borders, and more to do with advanced degrees.

Tens of thousands of doctors, scientists, engineers and more are turned down from legally entering the United States each year simply because the numbers don’t work out.

Each year, 65,000 H-1B visas are awarded to high-skill immigrants, along with 20,000 advanced degree visas for the highly educated, according to Tech Crunch. Unfortunately, that means more than 40,000 applicants who are filing legal, orderly claims to enter the country are simply denied for lack of space.

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40,000 highly-skilled applicants won’t get work visas because the U.S. has set an annual cap (Image source: Shutterstock).

In 2013, 124,000 people applied for the combined 85,000 slots in the first five-day period, which — due to the massive pool of legitimate candidates — how now turned into a lottery. Turn in your application any time during the five-day window, and you have an equal shot at one of the highly-sought after visas.

If stalled legislation is evidence of an appetite for easing the path for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math specialists, then some members showed hunger for STEM immigration reform in 2013. But the changes failed to gain traction, and now they are tangled together with the overall Senate immigration bill, which Republican leaders say will never see the House floor.

So what happens when Congress fails to act? Ideally, citizens respond. In this case, a group called Fwd.us — founded in part by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg – has taken on the cause of high-skill immigration reform. According to Tech Crunch, fellow Fwd.us founder Joe Green, “lambasted current law regarding the cap structure of high-skill visas,” calling the current set of regulations dysfunctional.

“[It is] absolutely critical that House Republicans take action on immigration reform now to do right by American families and boost the American economy,” Green said.

Last week, the White House released a statement saying the Department of Homeland Security would soon publish several proposed rules that will “make the United States more attractive to talented foreign entrepreneurs and other high-skill immigrants who will contribute substantially to the U.S. economy, create jobs, and enhance American innovative competitiveness.”

Apparently the updates would make room for spouses of STEM specialists, even though other qualified applicants may still miss the boat:

“These proposed regulations include rules authorizing employment for spouses of certain high-skill workers on H-1B visas, as well as enhancing opportunities for outstanding professors and researchers. These measures build on continuing DHS efforts to streamline, eliminate inefficiency, and increase the transparency … “

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The White House said DHS will soon propose a fix … for some of the spouses (Image source: Shutterstock).

Supporters of immigration reform for high-skilled workers say that the shortage of IT specialists alone justifies the change, especially with the ever-increasing threats to web security nationwide. Brookings cites 4.3 million open computing positions are advertised each year — 50 times the number of allowed applicants per year. Not mincing words, Brooking’s Jonothan Rothwell says, “There are more job vacancies than there are IT workers.”

Opponents decry the touted STEM worker shortage as a lobbying effort by technology companies; “They want the ability to hire guest workers for 150 percent of all expected new positions,” Hal Salzman, a professor of planning and public policy at Rutgers University, said.

Needless to say, whether it’s borders or visas for highly-educated and trained immigrants, the U.S. government has yet to find a workable solution.

(H/T: Tech Crunch)

Follow Elizabeth Kreft (@elizabethakreft) on Twitter.