The Republican controlled U.S. House of Representatives by a bi-partisan vote of 245-139, has passed the STEM Jobs Act which makes 55,000 additional immigrant visas available to foreigners who have earned advanced degrees from U.S. universities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), to whom U.S. employers have offered jobs. Twenty-seven Democrats joined 218 Republicans in supporting the bill. Five Republicans joined 134 Democrats in voting â€śnoâ€ť.
The 55,000 visas were added by the new act without increasing the overall level of immigration by abolishing the so-called Diversity Visa Lottery, which purports to award 55,000 prized immigrant visas each year in an on-line lottery. Also known as the â€śgreen card lotteryâ€ť, it discriminates on the basis of ethnicity in order to steer visas to politically favored races and nationalities. It completely excludes, for example, people from Mexico, Haiti, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, China, the Philippines, South Korea, India, and 11 other countries from even applying.
Originally created to bring more white immigrants to the U.S., particularly from Ireland, it was sometimes referred to as â€śthe Anti-Diversity Lotteryâ€ť. Currently the largest group of Diversity immigrants come from Africa, which is why some Democrats opposed the STEM Jobs Act, despite claiming to support more immigrant visas for those holding advanced degrees in the STEM fields.
Besides being discriminatory, the so-called Diversity Visa Lottery is rife with fraud. Because applications are accepted over the internet, people can apply multiple times using different names to increase their chance of winning. When I testified to Congress in 2004 in favor of abolishing the Visa Lottery, I was joined by other witnesses and former government officials who testified that fraud in the program is widespread.
A third important part of the STEM Jobs Act makes temporary visas available to the spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents of the U.S. This allows family reunification while spouses and children await their permanent immigrant visas. Over 300,000 are on this waiting list, mainly from Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Refusal of Senate Democrats and President Obama to support this bill means that these families of legal permanent residents already in the U.S. will continue to be separated.
Democrats are holding the STEM Jobs Act hostage until they get what they want, which is a big amnesty for all the millions of aliens who have entered the U.S. in violation of our immigration laws. They donâ€™t like to use the word â€śamnestyâ€ť, and prefer the vague, ambiguous, and meaningless phrase â€ścomprehensive immigration reformâ€ť.
This is ironic since the Democrats accuse the Republicans of holding hostage the extension of the expiring Bush tax cuts for middle-class taxpayers, until they also get a tax cut extension for the richest 2 percent of American taxpayers.
Howâ€™s this for a deal: Democrats agree to allow the STEM Jobs Act to become law. And in exchange, Republicans allow the middle-class tax cut extension to become law. All other legislative ideas get considered separately and on their own merits.
Jan Ting is a Professor of Law at Temple Universityâ€™s Beasley School of Law and a former Assistant Commissioner for Refugees, Asylum and Parole, Immigration and Naturalization Service, U.S. Department of Justice.