House to Vote for Merit Based Green Cards

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) introduced the STEM Jobs Act, which would would eliminate the diversity visa program and instead allocate up to 55,000 visas a year to foreign students who graduate from American universities with doctorates or master’s degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM). The House is scheduled to vote on the bill on today. 

Smith said that in a global economy, “we cannot afford to educate these foreign graduates in the U.S. and then send them back home to work for our competitors.”

“We could boost economic growth and spur job creation by allowing American employers to more easily hire some of the most qualified foreign graduates of U.S. universities,” Smith said. “These students have the ability to start a company that creates jobs or come up with an invention that could jump-start a whole new industry."

Foreign students receive nearly 40 percent of master’s degrees awarded in STEM fields but only 5% of the country’s green cards are allocated based on skills and education.  

According to the Washington Times, those who receive green cards through the diversity lottery, which began in 1990, “generally have higher unemployment and a more difficult time acclimating than other immigrants, presumably because they aren’t selected for their work prospects and don’t come with a family network to back them up.”

Democrats authored a similar piece of legislation that would allocate at least 50,000 green cards for science and technology graduates but would not give green cards to students who graduate from for-profit universities. Democrats also want maintain the draft lottery. 

“There is no reason we need to cut legal immigration somewhere else to do that,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) said. “If we had a clean up or down vote on STEM visas, I bet most Democrats would support it, but the zero-sum approach of the Republicans, robbing Peter of his visa so Paul waits in a shorter backlog, that will probably be less popular.”

To qualify for the STEM Jobs Act, an immigrant will have to agree to work at least five years for the petitioning employer or in the United States in a STEM field. In addition, the immigrant will have to have taken all of their course work while physically present in the United States and the petitioning employer must have gone through the labor certification process, showing there was not a sufficient number of “American workers able, willing, qualified and available for the job.”

In addition, the bill requires the Department of Homeland Security to “post on its official website information about the employers who sponsor STEM graduates for green cards, the number of STEM graduates they sponsor, and the occupations of the STEM graduates they sponsor.”

“For America to be to the world’s economic leader, we must have access to the world’s best talent,” Smith said. 


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