Congressional Bill Increasing Immigrant Visa Availability for Foreign-Born College Graduates to be Introduced This Week

Earlier this year, Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that sought to increase the pool of immigrant visas/green cards available to foreign-born graduates with advanced degrees in science, math and technology fields. House Democrats criticized this measure because it would eliminated the diversity visa program — a “lottery” that provides a set-aside of 55,000 immigrant visas to individuals meeting strict eligibility requirements selected from countries having low rates of immigration to the United States.

In response to this criticism, Senator Charles Schumer of New York is planning to introduce a bill on Wednesday that is substantially similar to the Smith bill, but would keep the diversity visa program intact. This bill, called the Benefits to Research and American Innovation through Nationality Statutes Act, would create a two-year pilot program that would provide 55,000 new green cards each year for foreign-born graduates of U.S. universities with a master’s degree or higher in science, math, technology or engineering (STEM) fields. These graduates would also need a job offer in the U.S. for a STEM-based position to qualify under this Act.

Senator Charles Schumer of New York

Another bill similar to Senator Schumer’s was introduced in the House by Rep. Zoe Lofgren on Friday. These proposed bills, as well as others, highlight the importance of immigration in election year politics. Additionally, Congress’ recent focus on employment-based immigration signals what is seen as a need for highly skilled labor, particularly in the field of mathematics, science and technology. Another bill co-sponsored by Sen. Schumer seeks to eliminate country-specific limitations for employment-based green cards. The current law limits any particular country to 7% of the 140,000 employment-based immigrant visas, which has resulted in extremely long waiting periods for workers from large countries such as India and China, which often extend for years (and in some cases — decades).

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