The U.S. House of Representatives failed to pass a bill Thursday night that would have granted tens of thousands of visas to highly skilled foreign-born graduates. Democrats blocked the measure, calling it a “sinister” ploy to reduce legal immigration.
The legislation, introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, would have eliminated the diversity visa program and reallocated up to 55,000 new green cards to foreign graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. The diversity visa program brings in the same number of immigrants through a random selection of applicants from around the world.
The House fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to move the bill through a procedural process known as suspending the rules, voting 257-158.
Smith charged Democrats with blocking legislation that would help boost the economy and create jobs.
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“For America to be the world’s economic leader, we must have access to the world’s best talent,” he said in a statement. “Unfortunately, Democrats today voted to send the best and brightest foreign graduates back home to work for our global competitors.”
Republicans and Democrats agree that there’s a need to retain highly skilled foreign-born graduates, but Democrats don’t want to eliminate the diversity lottery program in the process.
“This is not the way our immigration system works, and I believe the only reason the bill is written in this fashion is to satisfy anti-immigrant organizations that have long lobbied for reduced levels of immigration,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, the ranking Democrat on Judiciary’s immigration subcommittee. Lofgren introduced a bill this month that would add 50,000 new green cards for the science graduates without cutting the diversity visa program.
More than 150 college presidents and chancellors signed a joint letter to President Barack Obama and Congress this month warning that the lack of visas for these highly trained graduates was “a critical threat to America’s pre-eminence as a global center.” Signers included the presidents of Harvard, Stanford and Yale universities, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of North Carolina.