Trying to beat Democrats to the punch on the first post-election immigration bill, House Republicans have scheduled a vote later this week on a business-friendly proposal to grant green cards to foreigners who earn high-tech doctoral degrees from U.S. universities.
It would offer as many as 55,000 immigrant visas a year to people in science, technology, engineering and math fields, and would free up those visas by eliminating the diversity visa lottery, which offers green cards based on random chance.
“We cannot afford to educate these foreign graduates in the U.S. and then send them back home to work for our competitors,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, the Texas Republican who wrote the bill. “For America to remain the world’s economic leader, we must have access to the world’s best talent.”
His bill is the first salvo in Republicans’ effort to tackle immigration piece by piece, even as Senate Democrats plan for a more comprehensive bill next year.
Republicans and Democrats say the legal immigration system is broken and say more should be done to keep desirable would-be immigrants, such as those earning advanced degrees, in the U.S.
But many Democrats and immigrant-rights groups object to eliminating the diversity lottery. They say rather than trade one program for another, America should increase legal immigration overall, and they say the diversity lottery for visas is a key way to get immigrants from underrepresented countries.
“We just had an election where the Lamar Smith approach to immigration policy was adjudicated and failed,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice. “If this is the ‘new’ Republican strategy on immigration, it sure looks a lot like the old Republican strategy on immigration.”
Republicans, though, said the diversity lottery is rife with fraud, which they said threatens national security.
Instead, Republicans are trying to sweeten the bill for Democrats by making another change to the immigration system that would allow spouses and children of green-card holders to wait for their own green cards while remaining in the U.S., rather than at home. That change has been sought by immigrant-rights advocates as a family-friendly policy.
Mr. Smith said he expects his bill to clear the House, where a similar version garnered 257 votes in September. That previous version failed because it was brought to the floor under expedited rules that required a two-thirds vote, but this week’s action will need only a simple majority.
Senate Democrats have been cool to the bill, though, suggesting it won’t have a shelf life beyond this week’s vote.
Instead, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, has introduced his own version that would apply to holders of master’s and doctoral degrees, but would require applicants to have a job offer from a U.S. company — and that the company certify it isn’t trying to undercut wages by hiring a potential immigrant. His bill would preserve the diversity lottery and treat the high-tech green cards as an addition to the system.
His legislation hasn’t seen any action in the Senate and his office didn’t respond to a message seeking comment Monday.
The idea of expanding high-tech green cards was a key part of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s immigration plans, but it also has the support of President Obama, though the administration didn’t take a stance on the House bill in September.