PublishedSeptember 21, 2012

Encouragement Amid Disappointment on STEM Visas

Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted on H.R. 6429, the STEM Jobs Act, sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, which would increase access to green cards for foreign graduates of U.S. universities with advanced degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields by creating a new green card category of up to 55,000 visas for them.  However, the bill also would eliminate the diversity visa lottery program, which drew opposition from others including House Democrats.  As a result, the bill failed to achieve the required 2/3 majority and was voted down. While this was disappointing, CCIA understands the reasons and is encouraged by the level of bipartisan support voiced on the House floor for STEM visas themselves, and we look forward to further coordination and cooperation on the issue this year.

Greater access to green cards for skilled foreign workers holding advanced degrees from U.S. universities is a cause that CCIA has championed for many years.  It is therefore extremely disappointing for us to see a bill that would do just that come up for a vote at last, only to see it fail.  What makes it even more excruciating is that the failure came due to disagreement on an unrelated measure and despite broad bipartisan support for STEM visas themselves.

During floor debate, member after member (both supporters of H.R. 6429 and opponents) declared their support for increasing green cards for advanced STEM degree holders, and cited a consensus for that support.  Despite yesterday’s disappointment, we cannot help but be encouraged by the fact that members of both parties voiced support on the House floor for this policy, not just in concept, but as part of concrete legislation.

The past efforts and failures at immigration reform have shown that nothing can be done without bipartisan agreement.  A Buddhist parable tells of a version of hell in which condemned souls starve because the chopsticks they are given are too long for them to lift the food into their own mouths, whereas in heaven the chopsticks are used to feed each other.  The U.S. economy has been starving itself of skilled immigrants and the innovation they contribute for too long.  Yet with such broad agreement on the need for STEM visas as was demonstrated on the House floor yesterday, there must be a way for both parties to work together in a way that achieves legislation with bipartisan support.  We look forward to their continuing to work toward and finally finding such a solution this year.

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