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US vote on foreign grads illustrates immigration deadlock

The House of Representatives voted Friday to grant more permanent residency permits to foreign graduates -- a likely-doomed bill that illustrates the deep divisions between the two main US parties on the hot issue of immigration.

The tally was 245 in favor to 139 against. The bill was sponsored by Republicans, who were snubbed mightily by Hispanics in the November general election.

Democrats voted against it, in part because they want broad reform of the immigration system, not just to tackle a small aspect of it in a country with an estimated 11 million foreigners lacking residency permits.

The bill will probably go nowhere because there is only a month left in the legislature and Democrats control the Senate.

A new Congress born of the November presidential and legislative elections will take office in January.

Specifically, the STEM Jobs Act voted on Friday would raise from 120,000 to 170,000 the number of residency permits granted to foreigners who have completed graduate degrees at American universities.

The new visas would be for those in science, technology and engineering fields, the first three parts of the STEM acronym. But to make room for them, a program that gave preferential treatment to people from developing countries was axed.

The bill's sponsor, Republican Lamar Smith, said America needs to hold on to graduates with high-tech skills.

"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," Smith said.

But Luis Gutierrez, a Democrat who acts as a sort of party spokesman on immigration, said that while there is consensus that STEM visas are important, "if you support this bill, you are saying that one group of immigrants is better than another and one type of educated, degree-holding person and their work is more important than another's."

Democrats also criticized as unfair a clause in the bill that would make it easier for technology-oriented graduate students who end up with green cards to bring their families into the United States from overseas than for others in less high-tech fields.

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