Last month a Congressional bill that would have allotted 55,000 permanent resident visas for foreign graduates with STEM degrees was defeated in the House of Representatives. The fate of the bill is particularly interesting because of the window it provides into the current state of immigration legislation in the United States.
Representative Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas, sponsored the bill, entitled the STEM Jobs Act. The bill provides thousands of green cards for immigrants who receive degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. On that point many in Congress were supportive.
But the fast-tracked measure failed in its vote, 257-158 coming up short of the two-thirds majority needed. The bill received the vote of the entire Republican caucus, along with that of several dozen Democrats.
Virtually all members of Congress favor adding more STEM green cards and retaining skilled immigrants trained here in the U.S. Many in the country's tech-related business community feel it is a necessity to help keep American companies competitive with the rest of the world. Some of the most successful American tech companies - Google, eBay, Yahoo!, Intel - were founded by immigrants
The issue was that Smith's bill didn't add green cards, but rather took them from another program. The STEM Jobs Act proposed eliminating the diversity visa, which provides green cards for immigrants from countries with a lower rate of immigration. The bill also would not allow unused visas from the program to be used elsewhere in the visa program, something commonly practiced in U.S. immigration.
For Democrats, the bill would have the potential to effectively decrease immigration in years where all of the STEM visas weren't awarded. "We strongly oppose a zero-sum game that trades one legal immigration for another." Said John Conyers Jr. (D-MI).
Smith has said he opposes the diversity visa because he believes it is creates the potential for terrorists to gain access to the country and is susceptible to fraud.
It seems everyone is looking for the perfect legislation. Unfortunately such a thing doesn't exist. It is no wonder Congress is unable to pass any common sense legislation, whether on immigration or other subjects. Mr. Smith's reasoning is particularly puzzling and has no basis in logic.