STEM Jobs Act 2012 Standoff

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STEM Jobs Act 2012 Standoff

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By Amber L. Blasingame, Associate Attorney

With the election past, voters who supported President Barack Obama wait in anticipation to see if this administration will finally deliver the much awaited and needed Comprehensive Immigration Reform.  While congress has begun to introduce or reintroduce immigration related bills to benefit the “best and the brightest,” the battle of wills between the Executive and Legislative branches appears to live on.

In September 2012, Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX21) introduced the STEM Jobs Act of 2012 (H.R. 6249) “to promote innovation, investment, and research in the United States.”  STEM refers to jobs in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math industries.  However, to prevent increasing the available immigrant visa quota, the bill also proposed to eliminate the 55,000 visa numbers set aside for the annual Diversity Visa lottery.  Democrats support the Diversity Visa lottery, thus, the bill as a whole was “an offer they couldn’t accept.”  Democrat versions of a STEM Jobs Act were also introduced in September 2012 by Representative Lofgren (D-CA) and Senator Schumer (D-NY) which proposed adding 55,000 “new visas” available to STEM eligible beneficiaries.

On November 28, 2012, the White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy opposing “House passage of H.R. 6249.”  While, the House Rules Committee introduced a modified version on November 20, 2012, the bill still contained the above-mentioned “unfortunate poison pill,” in the words of Senator Luis Gutierrez (D-IL).  The modifications proposed to expand the “V” nonimmigrant visa program for families of qualifying students sans employment authorization, extend the rollover period until 2016, eliminate the requirement that recipients commit to five years of employment in the US or for the petitioner, and eliminate the prohibition of “incentive payments to persons based on securing foreign students.”  However, these modifications were not enough according to the administration to “meet the President’s long-term objectives with respect to comprehensive immigration reform.”  According to the Administration Policy, “This legislation, if enacted, would allocate immigrant visas for advanced graduates of a limited set of STEM degree programs, would offer a limited number of visas for families through the “V” nonimmigrant visa program, and would eliminate the long-standing Diversity Visa program that makes immigrant visas available to certain individuals from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.”

In a letter to “STEM Visa Supporters” on September 14, 2012, Senator Gutierrez challenged congress to “come up with a bipartisan solution to staple a green card to each advanced degree in science, technology, engineering, and math earned by an aspiring immigrant at our U.S. universities [‘this year’].”  The clock is ticking and the 112th Congress only has a few more weeks in 2012 to meet this challenge.

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