On November 30, the House of Representatives passed the STEM Jobs Act of 2012 (H.R. 6429), 245-139. The STEM Jobs Act would eliminate the diversity lottery green card program and instead redistributed 55,000 green cards to foreign students who graduate from a US university with a Master’s or Ph.D. degree in science (excluding biological and biomedical fields), technology, engineering, or mathematics, the so-called “STEM” fields .
Despite bipartisan interest in a STEM program and strong support from business and industry groups, this bill is not expected to become law. First, the elimination of the diversity lottery program remains a sticking point with many Democrats, so it is doubtful the Democrat-controlled Senate will consider it. Furthermore, President Obama opposes this bill. Although the President supports legislation to attract and retain foreign students who graduate with advanced STEM degrees, he does not support narrowly tailored proposals that do not meet long-term objectives with respect to comprehensive immigration reform.
Immigration Reform in 2013
There has been much speculation that comprehensive immigration reform will be an Administration priority in 2013. Therefore, the STEM visa issue will likely reemerge during the next Congressional term, either as a standalone bill or as part of a more comprehensive immigration package. Other STEM-related bills have been introduced in recent months, some of which would retain the diversity lottery program, and therefore might garner more bipartisan support.
For example, the Attracting the Best and Brightest Act of 2012 (H.R. 6412) introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) on September 14 would create a new visa category (EB-6) that would provide up to 50,000 visas to STEM graduates. Any unused visas granted under the EB-6 category would be reallocated to other employment-based immigrant visa categories.
In the Senate, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on September 19, 2012 introduced the Benefits to Research and American Innovation through Nationality Statutes (BRAINS) Act of 2012 (S. 3553), which would also provide up to 55,000 annual STEM green cards through a 2-year pilot program. BRAINS share many similarities as the STEM Jobs Act, but STEM students would no longer be required to demonstrate they have no desire to stay permanently in the US as a precondition to being allowed to attend school in the US, any unused green cards under this program would be reallocated to other employment-based green card programs that are in place for highly-skilled STEM advanced-degree graduates from foreign universities, and temporary workers on high-skilled visas who have not violated their status would be permitted to renew their visas from within the US instead of having to return to their home countries to do so.