The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a bill that would eliminate the current diversity visa program and will instead reallocate green cards to foreign postgraduate students attending American universities.
The STEM Jobs Act — H.R. 6429 — was passed by the Republican majority in a 245-139 vote on Friday and would allocate up to 55,000 green cards for foreign students pursuing advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The act would allow American employers to help create jobs, increase competitiveness, spur innovation and ensure the status of the United States as a global leader, said House Judiciary Committee chair and co-author of the act Lamar Smith, R-Texas.
“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,” Smith said. “For America to remain the world’s economic leader, we must have access to the world’s best talent.”
The majority of Democrats in the House of Representatives support STEM visas for foreign graduates of U.S. universities but not at the expense of other groups of other groups waiting for green cards, said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, in a statement.
“The partisan Republican STEM bill takes the country backwards in our immigration policy and will prevent immigrants hoping to use rollover unused visas to reunite with their families,” Lee said in the statement. “We cannot do this at the expense of farmers and agricultural workers, DREAMers, and for families separated by green card backlogs.”
The diversity visa program serves a symbol of hope for hopeful green card holders, said UC Berkeley School of Law professor Leti Volpp. She added that there are few programs that allocate scarce resources by luck.
“I think this is really lamentable,” Volpp said. “Rather than thinking about creating more visas, Congress is choosing to take one people and put them against another. There is a presumption that there has to be a tradeoff of one sector for another. I think we can absorb more legal residents per year, and this act does not reflect the fact.”
If the act is passed by the Senate, the ramifications for UC Berkeley are uncertain, Volpp said.
“There seems to be some comprehensive immigration reform planned, and I don’t know if this is the opening act,” Volpp said.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, suggested increasing the number of STEM visas without eliminating existing legal immigration visa programs, according to transcripts of Friday’s debate. Under the proposed legislation, unused visas will not trickle down to visa hopefuls in other countries who have been waiting for the visa backlog to clear, according to Lofgren.
“I can’t support a bill that pits immigrant communities against each other — that sets a terrible precedent for addressing our broken immigration system that is indefensibly designed to reduce immigration while purporting to increase it and that harms American workers,” Lofgren said in the debate. “For that reason, it pains me greatly to say that I cannot support this flawed bill.”
Contact Aliyah Mohammed at [email protected]