U.S. House of Representatives passes immigration reform: STEM Jobs Act

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Today, the House approved the first post-election effort to reform U.S. immigration policy. The so-called STEM Jobs Act eliminates the diversity visa program (“Green Card Lottery”) and reallocates up to 55,000 new green cards to graduates of American universities in science, technology, engineering, and math (“STEM” fields). 

The bill was approved by a margin of 245 to 139 in the Republican-controlled House. A total of 218 Republicans voted in favor of the STEM bill, but only 27 Democrats did so. 134 Democrats and only 5 Republicans voted against the bill. Sponsor of the bill is Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Some U.S. media outlets speculate that it is unlikely that the bill will pass the Democrat-controlled Senate.

The STEM Act is the first bill related to immigration visas to be considered by Congress since the election, when Latinos chose Democrats by large margins. A similar Act was voted on by the House in September, but it fell short under a procedure requiring a two-thirds majority. This time around, the STEM Act was revived under rules needing only a simple majority.

The idea of a STEM bill is popular in both parties. But the more complicated question is how and when to address the problem. Democrats say they support increasing STEM visas, but argue the Republican approach would reduce visa availability overall. In “concession” to Democrats, Republicans added a provision to the bill that allows spouses and minor children of green card holders to come to the U.S. one year after they apply for their green cards. The family members would not be able to work, however, until they actually got their green card. Many Democrats said the family concession was not enough to compensate for the elimination of the Green Card Lottery, which they argued should not have been dropped.

The STEM Act visas would be in addition to about 140,000 employment-based visas for people ranging from lower-skilled workers to college graduates and people in the arts, education and athletics. The legislation now will move to the Senate, where Democratic leaders have already drafted similar legislation that includes the diversity lottery.

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