House Passes Visa Bill for Foreign Graduates, Over Democrats' Objections

November 30, 2012

The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday passed legislation that would reallocate up to 55,000 green cards to foreign graduates of American research universities who receive advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics.

The bill, called the STEM Jobs Act, was approved by a 245-to-139 vote. The measure would eliminate an existing "diversity visa" program that currently provides 55,000 visas a year to people from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. Under the legislation, those visas would be redirected to highly educated graduates. The bill would create a new category of visas specifically for foreign students who graduate from an American research university with a doctorate or master's degree in a STEM field.

Proponents of the bill, which included nearly all House Republicans and 27 Democrats, said the new program was essential for economic growth and maintaining the nation's global competitiveness because it would keep highly trained, in-demand workers in the United States.

Most House Democrats and the White House opposed the bill. They argued that while they supported the expansion of STEM visas, they also wanted to preserve the diversity visa program that the Republicans were proposing to cut.

"There's no question that a STEM green-card program is the right thing to do for our country," Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, said on the House floor. However, she added, "there's no reason that giving a green card to one person should mean taking one away from someone else."

The bill was also opposed by Nafsa: Association of International Educators. In a statement released on Thursday, the group said it opposed the bill because "it perpetuates a divisive, us-versus-them approach to immigration reform."

Echoing the remarks of many House Democrats, the group said it supported the goal of providing green cards to graduates of American colleges and universities but did "not support creating a new path for international students by eliminating another immigration program."

The House previously voted on the STEM Jobs Act, which was sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, in September, but the bill failed to garner the two-thirds support it needed to pass through an expedited procedure.

The bill passed by the House on Friday is unlikely to move any further in the current Congress. The Democratic-controlled Senate is not expected to take up the measure, as both chambers focus on high-stakes negotiations over a series of looming fiscal deadlines at the end of the year.