STEM visas a controversy among legislators
A bill meant to secure visas for tens of thousands of foreign born graduate students looking to enter or stay in the U.S. workforce got tangled in election year politics and the ever controversial immigration debate. Our Washington, D.C. bureau reporter, Erin Billups, has more.
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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As the gap between available skilled labor and the rapidly growing science, technology, engineering and math industries, or STEM, jobs continues to widen, lawmakers are struggling to find a balance between meeting the needs of the burgeoning sectors and creating fair immigration policy.
"This bill makes our immigration system smarter by admitting those who have the education and skills America needs," Texas Representative Lamar Smith said.
"Although this bill ostensibly seeks to increase STEM visas, it appears to have another, in my opinion, more sinister purpose to actually reduce legal immigration levels," California Representative Zoe Lofgren.
The debate on the STEM Jobs Act came to the House floor just before lawmakers left Capitol Hill for the campaign trail last week. It fell shy of the two thirds needed to pass.
Those in the tech industry call it a disappointment, especially as the back log of visa applicants continues to worsen.
"The wait time for a green card could stretch beyond ten years and in our industry, ten years is three lifetimes and four startup companies," said Robert Hoffman of the Information Technology Industry Council.
Hoffman, who lobbies for the Information Technology Industry Council, says passing a STEM visa bill is a gold mine for lawmakers, citing a recent American Enterprise institute study.
"One hundred STEM visas translates to 260 domestic jobs for U.S. natives," Hoffman said.
This most recent STEM bill hit a road block as republicans sought to make room for the STEM visas by eliminating 55,000 visas made available through other programs.
"The Statue of Liberty with her torch raised is being brought down, just a little bit," said House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer.
The STEM industries, though, have their fingers crossed that once Election Day pressures are lifted, a bill will get through both houses this year.
Hoffman said, "There’s definitely a legislative window for opportunity and Senator Schumer made some remarks to that effect following the vote that he’s ready and willing to roll up his sleeves and see if we can find a solution."