This past Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives rejected a bill that would have increased the number of green cards available to foreign students in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). If it had passed, as many as 55,000 visas a year would have gone to foreigners graduating from U.S. doctoral and masters programs, encouraging them to stay in the United States and participate in our economy rather than return overseas and take their talents with them. This proposal should have garnered support from both Democrats and Republicans, but instead the two parties failed to reach a consensus and the STEM Jobs Act died on the U.S. House floor.
The bill, which was sponsored by U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), included a stipulation that the 55,000 visas for highly-educated foreigners would not come from just anywhere. They would be subtracted from the visas granted by lottery to applicants from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States, most of which are in poorer parts of the world like Africa and Latin America. According to Smith, whose district includes part of Austin, this provision aimed to limit “fraud and security risks.” Democrats sharply accuse that it would also place an arbitrary limit on the number of legal immigrants admitted to this country.
Foreseeing Democrats’ objections, Smith and his fellow Republicans attempted to force the bill through the House under a procedure that limits debate and prevents amendments. The Democrats, their bluff called, voted against the bill in sufficient numbers to keep it from reaching the required two-thirds majority. And that was the end of the STEM Jobs Act.
Clearly, the U.S. House Republicans know exactly how beneficial this law would be, even without the limits on other immigrants’ opportunities. “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,” Smith said. “This bill makes our immigration system smarter by admitting those who have the education and skills America needs.” But he left the rest of the sentence unsaid: “ … at everybody else’s expense.”
The high road was open. The Republican-led House could have easily given the nation something everyone can get behind — an influx of skilled college graduates who could give back to the country that educated them. But instead they took that great idea hostage to score a political point and advance their own restrictive, xenophobic immigration philosophy. Now thousands of new graduates and the U.S. economy will pay the price.