House cancells lottery visa; Senate very likely to save it
By Alan Gomez, USA Today
December 6, 2012
WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives passed a bill Friday that would grant more visas to highly skilled foreigners while eliminating a program that awards visas through a lottery system.
The bill, passed in the House by a 245-139 vote, has little chance in the Senate, where Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Chris Coons, D-Del., have introduced a bill that would add the STEM visas without eliminating the diversity visa program. The Obama administration issued a statement Wednesday saying it did not support the bill, partly because it would eliminate the diversity visa program.
The bill serves as the first action on immigration in Congress after an election that saw Republicans struggle to garner Hispanic votes. President Obama beat out Republican challenger Mitt Romney 71% to 27% in the Hispanic vote, a gap that Republicans say must be closed for the GOP to gain ground in future elections.
There was no debate Friday on the House floor over the benefits of giving more green cards to foreigners who graduate in STEM fields. What upset many Democrats is the fact that Smith's bill would eliminate the diversity visa program.
That program awards visas through a lottery system in an attempt to bring in people from countries who are underrepresented in the U.S. population. The majority of those visas end up going to African nations, and others such as Ukraine, Fiji and Bangladesh.
"There's no question that a STEM green card program is the right thing to do for our country," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., whose district includes many of the Silicon Valley businesses clamoring for more visas. "(But) I can't support a bill that pits immigrant communities against each other. There's no reason that giving a green card to one person should mean taking one away from someone else."
Supporters of the bill countered that the diversity visa program is outdated.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said the U.S. legal immigration system is not enough of a meritocracy. He said up to 11% of visas granted by the United States are based on merit — the rest are given based on family ties and other categories.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said a targeted visa program aimed at the most talented foreigners, as opposed to a random lottery, is needed to help grow the U.S. economy. He pointed to figures that show immigrants are awarded the majority of U.S. patents in the STEM fields and that a quarter of all businesses in the STEM fields were created by immigrants.
"Our commitment to foreign STEM graduates is a commitment to American job creation," Cantor said.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said voters and high-tech companies in his district have been most concerned with more jobs, not more immigration.
"We want to put to the head of the line the people ... that create net jobs. They'll create jobs for people of all colors, of all races," Issa said. "I'm voting for (this bill) because I know as a former businessman ... that jobs and the economy are what people want us to work on. This is a good down payment."
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