Republicans Push for More Green Cards for Scientists, Engineers

Saturday, 01 Dec 2012 12:11 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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House Republicans Friday pushed through a measure that eliminates the diversity visa program, reallocating up to 55,000 new green cards to students who graduate from U.S. colleges and universities with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math.

The House approved the STEM Jobs Act by a party-line margin of 245 to 139, following a last-minute move by Democrats to pass a version of the bill to keep the diversity lottery, Fox News reports.

Republicans did add a provision to the bill, as a concession to Democrats, that allows spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents to come to the U.S. after waiting for a year in their native countries for their green cards to be processed. However, Democrats said the concession wasn’t enough to make up for the loss of the lottery visa.

Republican Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas who sponsored the bill, said the U.S. can spur economic growth by allowing employers to more easily hire foreign graduates of the nation’s universities.

“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,” said Smith.

He said the bill also puts families first because it unites legal permanent residents with their spouses and children. Smith noted the current waiting period for a green card is over two years, and has been even longer in the past.

Democrats, though, said the Republican bill plays favorites among immigrants. Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois said the bill takes away visas and the only means of legal immigration from from 50,000 people who don’t have higher degrees.

“My dad, if he had been an immigrant from Ireland or Nigeria or Taiwan would have been told ‘Nope.’ America is not for you. It is like when we used to have signs saying ‘Help wanted, Irish need not apply,’” Guiterrez said.

Under the lottery system around half the green cards go to nationals of African countries. If the House bill were to become law — which is considered unlikely due to Senate and White House opposition — that number is likely to be cut drastically.

The House voted on a similar bill in September, but if fell short because of the lack of a two-thirds majority.

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