STEM Visa Bill Defeated in House
Legislation to create 55,000 new
STEM visas was defeated in Congress on 20
September, despite receiving strong
bipartisan support. While disappointing, the
vote does not necessarily preclude further
action on a STEM bill later this year.
The STEM Jobs Act of 2012 (H.R.
6429) would have transferred 55,000 green cards
from the Diversity Visa program to a new
employment-based (EB) visa program. These new
visas would be available for use by
international students, who earned a Masters or
Ph.D. in a STEM field from a research university
within the United States.
The bill would have allowed
most, if not all, international STEM graduate
students to move directly from their student
visa to a green card without first having to use
an H-1B visa. In doing so, it would have
protected American jobs and wages, while
permitting the new immigrants to start their own
companies and change jobs as easily as
H.R. 6429 was introduced on
18 September by Rep. Lamar Smith
(R-Texas), chair of the House Judiciary Committee.
The bill had 67 cosponsors, all but one of
whom were Republicans.
Rep. Smith had been negotiating
with Senate Democrats over proposed
amendments to the STEM bill that would have
helped immigrants using the family-visa system.
When those negotiations broke down, Rep. Smith
decided to introduce his own bill that just
included the Diversity-for-STEM visa swap.
This swap is key to any
high-skill visa reform package. Republicans in
Congress refuse to raise the total number of
immigration visas available each year.
Democrats refuse to decrease it. A compromise
needed to be found that moved visas around
within the system, without changing the total
number of visas.
The Diversity Visa Program, or
visa lottery, was created in the 1990s to
promote immigration from countries that have
not, traditionally, sent many immigrants to the
United States, especially from countries in Eastern
Europe and Africa. It has succeeded to the
point that there are now significant numbers
of immigrants coming from both regions through
the family-based system.
The Diversity program
awards visas randomly to any applicant with at
least a high-school diploma. Critics complain
that there is no way to ensure that visa
winners will be able to find a job, integrate
into American society or even speak English.
National security concerns have also been raised
because there is no effective way to verify the
identity and criminal history of visa winners
from many countries.
STEM immigrants, on the other
hand, will have to have an advanced degree in a
high-demand field. Since they will have had to
earn that degree from an American research
university, their English skills will be
strong, and they will be able to move seamlessly
into the American middle class and immediately
begin contributing to the American economy.
It is important to note that
the STEM Jobs Act of 2012 would not have
increased high-skill immigration very much. It
would have encouraged some international
students to stay after graduating, most of
whom would have stayed anyway. They just would
have used an H-1B visa instead of a green card
to do it.
Even though H.R. 6429 garnered
a majority of those present and voting in the
House of Representatives, it still did not
pass, because the bill was considered
under a special procedure called Suspension.
This procedure allows bills to be voted on
quickly, but requires a two-thirds majority to
pass. The final vote on H.R. 6429 was 257 (227
Republicans and 30 Democrats) in favor to 158 (
5 Republicans and 153 Democrats) opposed. A
complete breakdown of the vote, plus the bill
text, can be found here:
While this result was
disappointing, it was not surprising. Passage
became unlikely (although not impossible) as
soon as negotiations between Republicans and
Democrats broke down.
This does not signal an end
efforts to pass a STEM Visa bill in 2012. Even
before the vote, Congressional leaders announced
that they intended to keep negotiating on a
compromise. The House vote confirms that a
STEM Visa bill, built around a visa swap with
the Diversity visa program, can pass the House
of Representatives. Senate leaders have already
expressed support for the bill. If a compromise
can be reached between House and Senate leaders,
it is possible that a STEM visa bill could be
enacted during the Lame Duck legislative
session after the November elections.
Russell T. Harrison is
IEEE-USA’s Senior Legislative Representative for
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