Editor’s Note: For an update on more recent STEM legislation in the US, please see our related article “US one step closer towards passing STEM legislation, increasing H-1B visas.”
US politicians on both sides of the aisle appear to be taking the country’s requirement for more STEM-skilled workers seriously with a recent US House of Representatives decision to allow up to 55,000 green cards to be reallocated to foreign graduates of American research universities with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. The bill – called the STEM Jobs Act – passed in a 245-to-139 vote, and proponents included nearly all House Republicans and 27 Democrats.
Though this represents much more traction than STEM-based US immigration policies have received in the past (previous like-minded legislation has been defeated in the House of Representatives), the bill is by no means a done deal as it must now face the Democrat-dominated Senate – and most Democrats oppose it.
Opponents – most Democrats, the White House, and NAFSA: Association of International Educators – are not against STEM-skilled foreign students receiving green cards. Rather, they are upset because the STEM Jobs Act would eliminate the Diversity Visa (DV) Program, meaning it would take green cards away from another group: people from countries with low rates of immigration to the US. These people – often from Africa and Asia – would not have a US immigration programme specifically geared to their needs if the STEM Jobs Act were to make it successfully through the Senate. This measure was incorporated so that there would be no overall increase in the level of immigration to the US.
NAFSA issued a statement arguing that the STEM Jobs Act appears to be:
“ … guided by the fear of doing anything that increases the number of people who may immigrate to the United States. There is no reason to regard the current annual limit on the number of green cards as sacrosanct law.”
California Democrat Zoe Lofgreen concurred, saying:
“There’s no question that a STEM green-card programme is the right thing to do for our country [but] there’s no reason that giving a green card to one person should mean taking one away from someone else.”
In other words, as much as virtually all parties want immigration policy that addresses America’s need for economic growth and global competitiveness by keeping talented and needed international students in the country instead of returning home after graduation, many are disturbed by the narrowness and selectivity of the bill.
The White House says it wants to see broader immigration reform that will “attract and retain highly skilled immigrants, unite Americans with their family members more quickly, establish pathways for undocumented individuals to earn their citizenship, hold employers accountable for breaking the law, and continue efforts to strengthen the nation’s border enforcement system.”
It seems clear that US lawmakers are prepared to act to create conditions that will allow the US to retain a higher percentage of international graduates of American STEM programmes. Given the White House’s opposition to the legislation, however, along with the pressing fiscal concerns facing the US Senate this year, it seems unlikely that the bill will pass the Senate, or even be actively considered there for some time to come.
Whether or not the bill will pass the Senate, or to what extent it will be modified to address Democrat concerns along the way, remain very much open questions at this point.
The STEM Jobs Act was one of several topics that ICEF Monitor explored in a recent conversation with Patricia Juza, Vice President for Advocacy of the American Association of Intensive English Programs (AAIEP).
The following video presents our interview with Patricia, in which she expresses an optimistic view with respect to the STEM Jobs Act, and explains why the bill is so important for recruitment agents.
Editor’s Note: The second bill briefly mentioned in the video is H.R. 3120, which would require all higher education institutions that enrol 25 or more students on non-immigrant visas to have national or regional accreditation recognised by the US Department of Education. As we reported in August, the US House of Representatives has approved this legislation and if the bill becomes law, colleges and universities that enrol foreign students and issue I-20′s will have a three-year window to meet the new accreditation requirement.
They see this as a move to close a major loophole in the student-visa system, stamp out visa fraud, secure the nation’s borders and protect America’s reputation as a high quality study destination.