Congress Introduces Competing Bills to Create a STEM Visa Program for Highly-Skilled Immigrants
Congress Debates Competing Bills to Create a STEM Visa Program
High Demand and Bureaucratic Delays
The United States depends on talented people to compete in the global economy, especially in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. In order to put together top teams of scientists and technologists with specialized knowledge, U.S. science and technology industries attract immigrants from all over the world. But limits on the number and types of visas deter a significant portion of these specialists. In addition, visa programs are often unfavorable to parents of children and young adults. For example, under current law, children or teenagers who come with their parents under a visa program may become legal adults (at age 18) before their parents are able to achieve permanent resident status for the family. The young adults then have to go “to the back of the line” to apply for their own visas, and sometimes are required to leave the U.S. while they wait for bureaucratic wheels to turn. In order to address these problems, Congress recently introduced several versions of legislation that would create a visa program for immigrants with advanced degrees in STEM fields from U.S. institutions.
Two Versions of the Legislation
One version, the STEM Jobs Act of 2012, introduced by Rep. Smith (TX), would eliminate the Diversity Visa Program, which gives 50,000 visas on a lottery basis to immigrants from all over the world – particularly African countries. Those 50,000 visas would be transferred to the STEM Visa Program. Another version, the Attracting the Best and Brightest Act of 2012 (ABBA), introduced by Rep. Lofgren (CA), would keep the Diversity Visa Program intact, and would authorize an additional 50,000 visas for the STEM Visa Program. Her version also includes crucial family unity provisions to protect children from being separated from their families when they ‘age out’ due to processing delays.
Last week, the House failed to pass Smith’s STEM Jobs Act. Rep. Lofgren’s bill is being considered by the House Judiciary Committee, and will likely come to the House floor for a vote after the November election. Senator Schumer (NY) introduced a version similar to Lofgren’s. His bill will likely be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee sometime after the election as well.
Both Visa Programs Are Needed
The U.S. issues too few visas for immigrants seeking to work here, creating years-long waiting periods for qualified workers. According to a letter to President Obama signed by 165 university leaders, “one quarter of US science and engineering firms already report difficulty hiring, and the problem will only worsen: the US is projected to face a shortfall of 230,000 qualified advanced-degree workers in scientific and technical fields by 2018.” A STEM visa program constitutes a good first step towards addressing this shortfall.
In order to expand the number of visas for STEM workers, however, the U.S. should not penalize other immigrants seeking visas through the Diversity Visa Program. As Rep. Hoyer (MD) said, “We don’t know where our next great innovators will come from, and we ought not close the doors on those who have been waiting patiently to have their number called in some far-off corner of the world. That lottery is not only their salvation but also our benefit.”
For these reasons, FCNL supports the ABBA. Contact your representative and urge them to support U.S. STEM industries and protect opportunities for immigrants around the world by voting for the ABBA.