Think that the election results will force the Democrats and Republicans to compromise on the issue of immigration? Better think again.
In this week’s “lame duck” Congress, the House of Representatives is scheduled to take up the matter of the STEM Jobs Act of 2012 (H.R. 6429). It would provide 55,000 green cards per year for foreign-born persons with advanced degrees from U.S. universities in the physical sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Everyone agrees that making these people lawful permanent residents is good for our country, and good for the economy. So, passing a bill like this should be a “no-brainer”, right?
Not so fast. The devil, as usual, is in the details.
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The bill is sponsored by 68 Representatives, almost all of whom (67) are Republicans. The bill received the endorsement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and almost every high tech company in the U.S. Though it received the votes of a majority of the members of the House of Representatives, it failed to pass the first time around on September 20 because its sponsors attempted to suspend the rules to cut off debate and pass the bill during the election campaign. This required a two-thirds vote, and 158 members of Congress, mostly (153) Democrats, voted against the bill.
The Democrats chief objection to the bill is that it would eliminate the Diversity Visa Lottery, and use the visas for those with STEM degrees instead. Why eliminate the Lottery? Because the Republicans are loath to increase the number of persons who obtain permanent residence each year. Why not eliminate the Lottery? Because the Democrats see the Lottery as essential to insuring that persons from countries with very little immigration to the U.S. have a chance to qualify for green cards. Also, they object that if there are not enough STEM graduates to fill the quota, the unused numbers could not be used for those in backlogged employment and family categories.
The Democrats had already introduced their own STEM bill, the “Attracting the Best and Brightest Act of 2012” (H.R. 6412). This bill would provide 50,000 green cards for STEM graduates while leaving the Visa Lottery in place. However, their STEM program would “sunset” after two years. This bill was not voted upon. Then the Democrats introduced the “BRAINS Act” in the Senate, which would grant green cards to STEM graduates while preserving the Visa Lottery. Unused numbers would help reduce backlogs in the EB categories.
Both political parties, in their platforms, profess strong support for granting green cards to STEM graduates. Even if the Republican bill passes in the House this coming week, the GOP needs to work out a deal with the Democrats if they expect the bill to pass in the Senate and be signed by the President.
I am not a big fan of the Visa Lottery. It seems a little crazy to hand out green cards randomly when millions of people sponsored by US employers and US citizen relatives must continue to wait in line for many years (or even decades). However, since both parties generally agree on the need for green cards for STEM graduates, wouldn’t it be best to pass a bill on this, and tackle other issues like the Visa Lottery separately?
I like the Republican idea of a permanent STEM program, and the Democrat’s idea of having the unused STEM numbers be used to help those stuck in long EB backlogs.
This week, the Republican STEM bill in the House will be amended to allow spouses and children of permanent residents to reunite with their families in the U.S. a year after I-130 petitions are filed on their behalf. They would not be permitted to work until they receive their green cards, but hundreds of thousands of families would be united. This is certainly a step in the right direction.
Let’s see if both sides can do a little “horse trading” this week, put aside their differences, and pass a compromise STEM bill.