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US: House passes STEM act, but Senate?

The US House of Representatives last week voted to make 55,000 more green cards available to foreign students graduating in the USA with advanced science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees.

The bill will now move to the Democratic controlled Senate where it is unlikely to be considered

Despite being strongly-backed by the high-tech industry, both the White House and NAFSA opposed the bill calling it a “zero-sum approach to immigration” as it would eliminate the Diversity Visa Program that makes immigrant visas available to certain individuals from countries with low rates of immigration to the US.

NAFSA said the bill “perpetuates a divisive, us-versus-them approach to immigration reform” and that it “supports the goal of creating a direct path to green cards for graduates of US institutions of higher education, including but not limited to the STEM fields”.

Republicans are pushing to offset the 55,000 new visas by eliminating the Diversity Visa Program

A similar act was defeated in September failing to gain the two-thirds majority to pass by 19 votes. This time the bill, originally proposed by Republican representative Lamar Smith, gained enough Democratic backing to pass with a 245-139 vote.

However, the bill will now move to the Democratic controlled US Senate where it is unlikely to be considered. The White House said it supports legislation to attract the next generation of highly-skilled immigrants, but not “narrowly tailored proposals that do not meet the President’s long-term objectives with respect to comprehensive immigration reform”.

Republicans are pushing to offset the 55,000 new visas by eliminating the Diversity Visa Program which, in 2010,  granted almost 25,000 visas to Africa; 9,000 to Asia and 16,000 to Europe.

Critics of the bill argue the number of green cards issued would actually decline because there are only about 30,000 foreign graduates every year who would qualify and the legislation does not allow unused visas to roll over to other programmes.

NAFSA said the bill “perpetuates a divisive, us-versus-them approach to immigration reform”

The White House said it is committed to fixing the US’s “broken immigration system ” through broader immigration reform that will attract and retain highly skilled immigrants, unite Americans with their family members more quickly, establish pathways for undocumented individuals to earn their citizenship and  create effective border enforcement system.

A call for immigration reform for STEM graduates also took place in the UK last month, but the British government gave no reprieve, refusing to alter policies to protect the large number of enrolments from foreign students in those subjects.

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