House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith is working on extending more green cards to foreign high-tech graduates of American universities.
The proposal hashed out by Smith and Schumer would have abolished the diversity visa program, a 22-year-old initiative that gives green cards to people from around the world through a lottery system. Republicans have targeted the program for years, but Democrats argue it broadens the diversity of the immigrant pool, particularly because it gives many people from African countries a chance to live here when they would otherwise not be able to.
Under the proposal, the 55,000 annual diversity visas would be reserved for people who earn a master’s or a doctoral degree from an American university in science, technology, engineering or mathematics, known collectively as the STEM fields.
Increasing the number of visas available for high-tech workers is one of the few pieces of immigration legislation that Democrats and Republicans — including Obama and Romney — agree on. And this latest effort benefited from strong support from tech and business groups eager for qualified workers.
Senate Democrats were willing to support swapping the diversity visas for visas for high-tech workers, but they demanded that Smith also include provisions making it possible for spouses and children of green card holders to live in the United States. Right now, immigration rules force many families to live apart for years while they wait for visas.
Republicans balked at those demands, leading the talks to collapse and prompting Smith to introduce his own high-tech visa bill, minus the family visa provisions that Democrats sought.