House bill to increase high-tech visas defeated (Update)

(AP)—Democratic opposition on Thursday led to the defeat of a House Republican bill that would have granted more visas to foreign science and technology students but would have eliminated another visa program that is available for less-educated foreigners, many from Africa.

Democrats, including members of the black and Hispanic caucuses, voiced support for allowing more talented foreign students to stay and work in the United States. But they objected to doing that at the expense of others seeking residence in the country.

The bill would have given up to 55,000 green cards a year to doctoral and masters graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, known as STEM fields. It would have eliminated the Diversity Visa Lottery Program that makes visas available to those from countries with low rates of immigration.

"We must start to take advantage of our status as a destination for the world's best and brightest," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

The STEM Jobs Act had the strong support of U.S. high-tech companies who have been frustrated by watching highly trained foreign students leave the country and work for non-American competitors because they are unable to obtain permanent residence visas.

The House Judiciary Committee said foreign students now receive nearly 4 out of every 10 master's degrees awarded in STEM fields, but that only 5 percent of immigrants are selected based on their skills and education. "This bill makes our immigration system smarter by admitting those who have the education and skills America needs," said committee chairman Lamar Smith.

Those seeking a green card under the bill would have to have received a doctorate or masters degree from an eligible U.S. university in computer science, engineering, math or the physical sciences other than biological sciences. The applicants would also have to agree to work for at least five years for the employer petitioning on his or her behalf. The company must also show there are no qualified Americans for the job.

Democrats said there was a real need to grant more STEM visas but accused Republicans of offering a partisan bill that would make them look more immigration-friendly before the election.

"It pains me greatly that I cannot support this bill," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, whose district in northern California includes high-tech companies and who has been a leading advocate for more STEM visas. "Although this bill ostensibly seeks to increase STEM visas, it appears to have another, in my opinion, more sinister purpose, to reduce legal immigrant levels."

The black, Hispanic and Asian-Pacific American caucuses put out a joint statement opposing the bill because of its elimination of the Diversity Visa program. In recent years about half the visas granted under that program have gone to residents of African nations. "It appears Republicans are only willing to increase legal immigration for immigrants they want by eliminating legal immigration for immigrants they don't want," the caucuses said in their letter.

Smith said the program has invited fraud and poses a security risk from terrorists seeking entry into the country.

The Republican majority brought up the bill under a procedure that limits debate and doesn't allow amendments but requires a two-thirds majority for passage. The vote was 257-158, 20 votes short of what was needed.

Democrats expressed hope that Congress, which leaves on Friday and won't be back until after the election, would still be able to reach a consensus on a STEM visa bill this year.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, who unsuccessfully tried to negotiate a compromise bill with Smith, on Tuesday introduced his own bill that would increase STEM visas without reducing visas provided for other programs.

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Sep 20, 2012
Once again, Republicans have voted to destroy their own nation.

Sep 20, 2012
Once again, Republicans have voted to destroy their own nation.

I'm no Republican, but that is asinine in this case.

Sep 20, 2012
Vendicar, we need these people here in the US. We have companies relocating because they can't hire qualified people. When are people* in the US going to get their head out of the ground and start celebrating education. Give education the respect that it deserves. Then maybe young people(born in the US) will strive for it. Learning is a life long process and it's fun!

*not to generalize but I do believe it is a large group. Also, I'm not a teacher but I work in k12.

Sep 20, 2012
Vendicar, we need these people here in the US.
The problem is not that Republicans want to import more STEM specialists (I'm all for it); the problem is that they sabotaged that goal by inserting a poison pill provision that caused Democrats to reject the entire proposal. If Republicans were sincere about increasing STEM workforce in the U.S., they would not have tied it to suppressing immigration through other channels (and if they really wanted to address the latter, they could have done it through a separate bill.) As it is, the maneuver was clearly disingenuous and politically motivated (so, what else is new?)

Sep 21, 2012
We have companies relocating because they can't hire qualified people.

At compensation they are willing to offer. On the other hand, lots of aspects of running a company are less expensive in places outside the U.S. Then again, if we (the U.S.) outsource enough, we will no longer have an economy.

I agree that education is key, and we need to find ways to make it more attractive and less expensive.

Sep 23, 2012
There are 100s of engineers unemployed, right here, in Silicon Valley--& I can attest to that--American citizens, who can't get hired because the high tech companies rather bring Indian engineers & other Southern Asians into their veil of lower-paying manipulations, take the jobs away from qualified U.S. citizens. I say--let companies go "offshore" like Romney, with his taxes/earnings, because it isn't cheap to offshore, like it was 10 years ago--& the political situations in China & India are
not reassuring for future investments. Oly the tax incentives make
offshoring profitable, just ask Hewlett-Packard, & see how many billions of dollars that corporation has hidden overseas! Meg Whitman wrote-off 8 BILLION DOLLARS just last month & it barely hurt their stock--it's a big game of "Smoke & Mirrors" & the American worker is the one that gets scape-goated/hurt!!!

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