Republicans Push Bill to Help Foreign Science Graduates Stay
Republican leaders in the House of Representatives, hoping to pass a measure
before the November elections to improve legal immigration, are pushing
for a vote this week on a bill that would increase the number of permanent
resident visas for foreigners graduating from American universities with
advanced degrees in science and technology.
The largely partisan bill was introduced on Tuesday by Representative Lamar
Smith of Texas, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. It
would allocate up to 55,000 visas, known as green cards, each year to
graduates with master’s or doctoral degrees from American universities, by
means of a trade-off. The bill would abolish a lottery run each year that
distributes the same number of green cards randomly to applicants from
countries that do not have large immigrant populations in the United States.
The nearly 50 other sponsors of Mr. Smith’s bill include only one Democrat
— Representative Henry Cuellar of Texas. Mr. Smith and Representative Eric
Cantor of Virginia, the majority leader, have said the House will vote on
A partisan fight broke out over Mr. Smith’s approach, which would not
increase the overall number of green cards issued annually. On Friday
Representative Zoe Lofgren of California, a Democrat whose district is home
to many technology companies, introduced a measure that would create 50,000
new green cards for advanced graduates in the so-called STEM fields: science
, technology, engineering and mathematics. That bill would not reduce the
visas available to the lottery.
On Tuesday, Charles E. Schumer of New York, the Democrat who is chairman of
the Senate Judiciary immigration subcommittee, introduced a bill that was
close to Ms. Lofgren’s measure, creating a two-year pilot program to give
55,000 new green cards each year to foreign graduates.
Democrats in both houses, especially Hispanic and black lawmakers, are
reluctant to end the lottery without some compromise, for example giving
additional green cards to family members of legal immigrants already here.
Many winners of the lottery, which was created in 1990, come from African
Behind the partisan maneuvering over details, there was notable bipartisan
accord — rare in this polarized Congress — on the broad goals of the
legislation: to offer visas so science and technology graduates could remain
here and start businesses to create jobs.
“In a global economy, we cannot afford to educate these foreign graduates
in the U.S. and then send them back home to work for our competitors,” Mr.
Smith said on Tuesday.
Currently, when foreign students finish their graduate studies they either
have to leave or head into a labyrinth of temporary visas, where it can take
years to get a permanent green card.
Last week, 165 leaders of American universities sent a letter to
President Obama and to Congress warning that the lack of visas for advanced
science graduates was “a critical threat to America’s pre-eminence as a
global center of innovation and prosperity.” Among those signing were
presidents of Stanford, Harvard, Cornell, the California Institute of
Technology and M.I.T.
According to the university leaders, in 2009 foreigners made up about 45
percent of all graduate students in engineering, math, computer and physical
sciences, and they earned 52 percent of all new doctoral degrees in those
All three of the new proposals include labor market tests that would require
employers to show they could not find a qualified American worker before
they sponsored a foreign graduate for a green card and a job.
With Congressional lawmakers expecting this to be their last week in session
before they head out to campaign, Republicans said they want to show they
are working to make good on pledges made at their convention last month. The
Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, said he would focus on fixing the system
for legal immigration.
President Obama has also said he supports more green cards for science
Technology groups watched the partisan jockeying with worry, fearing that no
legislation would pass.
“We have a new class graduating in December and we don’t want to lose
those people,” said Keith Grzelak, a vice president of the Institute of
Electrical and Electronic Engineers, a group with more than 200,000
members. “If we bring one superstar from another country who starts a
company here, there could be thousands of jobs that didn’t exist before.”
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, a strong advocate of high-skilled
immigration, urged lawmakers not to miss the moment. “There are real
options for immigration reform on the table now, and from both sides of the
aisle,” he said on Tuesday.
It was not clear Republicans had enough votes to pass the bill this week.
“Republicans are only willing to increase legal immigration for immigrants
they want by eliminating legal immigration for immigrants they don’t want,
” said Representative Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, a leading Hispanic
Democrat. But if Mr. Smith’s bill passes, Mr. Schumer’s measure may point
to a compromise in the Senate when Congress reconvenes after the Nov. 6
^ More articles about immigration. (topics.nytimes.com)
^ The letter. (www.renewoureconomy.org)
^ The Web site. (www.ieee.org)
Readability — An Arc90 Laboratory Experiment Follow us on Twitter