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House Of Representatives Wants Foreign Science Graduates

House bill allows more science workers to stay in U.S. but at the cost of the diversity visa program

by Andrea Widener
December 7, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 50

More foreign-born students who graduate with degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) from U.S. universities would be allowed to stay and work in the country under a bill (H.R. 6429) passed last week by the House of Representatives.

Sponsored by Rep. Lamar S. Smith (R-Texas), the bill would allow 55,000 immigrants with advanced STEM degrees to remain in the U.S. after graduation.In exchange, the bill would eliminate the long-standing diversity visa program, a lottery for people from countries generally underrepresented in the U.S. The bill would also allow some spouses and minor children of permanent residents to get a green card after a one-year wait.

“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,” says Smith.

Although STEM visas have had bipartisan support, the bill passed largely along party lines because most Democrats do not want to eliminate the diversity visa. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) both proposed bills in the House and Senate that would create the same number of STEM visas as H.R. 6429 without eliminating other programs.

The White House issued a statement opposing H.R. 6429. It supports STEM visa reform in general but wants the changes made through comprehensive immigration reform.

Many high-tech companies support immigration reform because a lack of STEM workers, they say, is stifling innovation in the U.S. and forcing companies to take their research hubs overseas.

The Senate blocked the bill from coming to a vote by unanimous consent, making its future uncertain.



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