STEM Visa Bill Falls Short in U.S. House

Jeff tries to explain how government works to readers of Science.

A Republican-backed plan to allow foreign students with advanced degrees in science and engineering from U.S. universities to remain in the country failed today in the U.S. House of Representatives. The vote was 257-158, leaving it 20 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed under rules that had rushed the bill to the floor for a vote.

The bill, H.R. 6429, would have created a new visa category for up to 55,000 graduates each year, allowing them to earn an employment-based green card. "Under the current system, we educate scientists and engineers only to send them back home where they often work for our competitors," said its chief sponsor, Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), during debate on the measure. It would have held constant the total number of legal immigrants by eliminating another visa program that grants permanent residency to 50,000 applicants a year on the basis of a lottery.

Although there is consensus that these graduates boost the U.S. economy, most Democrats favor retaining the so-called diversity program. They also object to other provisions that they say discriminate against permanent residents seeking entry for their family members and other relatives.

Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) has introduced a bill similar to Smith's but without those changes. In a statement to colleagues shortly before the vote, Lofgren said that "Democrats strongly support STEM visas, and we believe there is a unique opportunity here to craft a balanced, bipartisan bill that can pass the Senate. But the Republicans have instead chosen to rush a partisan bill that has no chance of becoming law to score political points."

Thirty Democrats voted for Smith's bill, and five Republicans opposed it.

Posted in Education