Should high-skilled immigrants get special treatment?
Some in Congress want to give special visas to foreign-born graduates of American universities with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math. But critics say it could come at the expense of diversity in legal immigration.
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The value of the visa program Smith’s bill would eliminate is a broadening and deepening of the foreign-born that America makes its own. The diversity program, although only about 5 percent of the US’s typical total annual immigration, specifically targets nations that have had low rates of immigration to the US in the previous five years – Bangladesh and Poland, for example.Skip to next paragraph
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“The beauty of our immigration system is that it allows for diverse streams of people, family unification, low wage, high wage, refugee,” says Muzzafar Chisti, the director of the Migration Policy Institute’s office at the New York University law school. “The diversity visas had provided another stream of balancing the ethnic and racial composition of our immigration stream and that itself is a value.”
Why might diversity visas be on the chopping block? Mr. Chisti says there is no strong, single group advocating for their continuance – while many groups are loaded up on the side of STEM grads.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D) of California, the ranking member of the House Immigration Policy and Enforcement subcommittee, proposed competing legislation Friday that offers the same number of STEM visas without cutting back on other visa programs. Representative Lofgren’s bill would sunset the new visas after two years to force Congress to reexamine how effective the program had been.
Smith’s bill, however, is the only one with a slot on the House floor. It will be offered under special voting procedures this coming Wednesday that require a two-thirds majority of the House to pass. The bill faces an uncertain path in the Senate, although members in that chamber have supported similar legislation in the past.
"There should be bipartisan support for efforts to retain the world's best and brightest after they've received STEM training at American universities. It makes no sense that we require these graduates to return home so they can compete against us,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D) of Virginia, an advocate for previous measures like the JOBS Act 2.0 that created a special visa for STEM graduates, in a statement.
"I am hopeful this commonsense proposal – which could do so much to promote US innovation and competitiveness – receives quick action by Congress,” he said.
However, the Senate is likely to join the House in leaving Washington after next week. Any negotiations over differences in bills passed between the two houses, then, would have to be resolved either in two short days as lawmakers skedaddle from Washington or in a lame-duck session after the election.