CT Politics

Connecticut Politics

House passes bill to increase visas for highly educated immigrants

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A bill to increase the number of visas available to highly educated immigrants and allow their families to stay in the United States while their visas are processed won House approval today by a vote of 245-139.

U.S. Representative Lamar Smith, R-Texas, holds a press conference at his office. JERRY LARA/glara@express-news.net

The STEM Jobs Act, sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, would increase the number of visas available for students who graduated from American universities with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees by up to 55,000 a year.

“In a global economy, we cannot afford to educate these foreign graduates in the United States and then send them back home to work for our competitors,” Smith said. “This legislation will help us create jobs, increase our competitiveness, and spur our innovation.”

The bill originally was pushed through for a suspension of the rules in September but fell short of the necessary two-thirds majority by 20 votes.

Although both parties support increasing visas for educated foreign graduates, Democrats contested the bill because the additional visas would be taken from the diversity visa lottery.

The lottery first was introduced in 1990 to increase opportunities for immigrants in underrepresented countries. The new legislation would end the program.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., has been an opponent of the bill since its inception and sponsored a bill earlier this year to increase visas for educated immigrants without cutting other programs. She said Smith’s bill was a “colossal diversion” and doesn’t expect the bill to be taken up by the Senate.

“This looks like a ‘double-down’ on the Grover Norquist-style ‘no new immigration’ pledge that they have been following for too long,” Lofgren said in a statement. “Republicans need to move past these kinds of gimmicks and work with Democrats to reform our immigration system so it works for businesses, our economy and families.”

After the STEM Jobs Act first flopped, Smith tacked on a provision that would allow spouses and children of permanent residents to wait in the United States for visas to become available after they have spent one year on the waiting list, a move immigration reform advocates have shown interest in.

The legislation now will move to the Senate, where Democratic leaders already have drafted similar legislation that includes the diversity lottery.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, introduced the Benefits to Research and American Innovation through Nationality Statutes, or BRAINS Act, earlier this year. The Senate bill also does not expand programs to allow immigrant families to wait in the United States for visas.

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