This article was published on September 21, 2012

Yes, we need a STEM immigration bill, but we don’t need to end the diversity visa program to get it

Yes, we need a STEM immigration bill, but we don’t need to end the diversity visa program to get it
Alex Wilhelm
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Alex Wilhelm

Alex Wilhelm is a San Francisco-based writer. You can find Alex on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can reach Alex via email at [email protected] Alex Wilhelm is a San Francisco-based writer. You can find Alex on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can reach Alex via email at [email protected]

It’s an interesting day in the Capitol, as Rep. Lamar Smith’s STEM Jobs Act should hit the floor of the House. TNW has written about it before, as you surely recall. In short, Congress is trying to add 55,000 new visa slots for graduates with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math. It is also mucking the whole thing up, as per usual.

Before we get mired in this issue. it’s important to understand exactly what is going on in the three bills that matter. Allow your humble servant:

Now, if we were to draw the fastest line between where we are at this moment, and the President signing a bill into law that would allow for the 55,000 STEM visas, the goal that we all want, it would be the passage of the Attracting act, and the Benefits act. This would send the bill along quickly to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

However, that is not what is happening. Instead, the STEM Jobs Act, Rep. Smith’s brainchild, is being taken up in the House today, and is being used as a cudgel to whack the minority part of the lower house of our bicameral Congress. To wit, from earlier today, I give you Rep. Smith: “I am surprised Democrats would vote against an important bill that will help us create jobs, increase our competitiveness, and spur our innovation.”

Why that’s bullshit

Note that Rep. Smith is lamenting the holdup of the passage of a bill that would add the 55,000 STEM visas, and nothing else, in that statement. This is mendacious. And somewhat hilarious, as you have to understand the following fact:

The only thing holding up the passage of the more STEM visas is Rep. Smith demanded ending of the diversity visa program. That’s it. That is the kicker. He’s the sticking point, not his opposition. Now, there could be some quibbling about whether or not the program should have a two-year trial window, and a few other small differences, but those are easily mended.

The core problem is that Rep. Smith wants to end the green card lottery. Now, that will never pass the Senate, so far I can surmise, or the President’s desk. So, in short, Rep. Smith is at once stalling the House, and the entire process of passing a STEM jobs bill, while blaming the very people that he is holding up for the mess. Impressive, I must say.

Do we care about the green card lottery?

Yep, because it’s a time-tested way for international people to make their home here in the United States. Why does Rep. Smith want to do away with it? I quote from his letter to Rep. Lofgren, in response to the Attracting the Best and Brightest Act 2012 [Bold: TNW]:

The American people deserve better than an immigration program that selects immigrants at random and with little regard to the education and skills they can bring to America.  Every year since 2005, legal immigration to the U.S. has exceeded a million persons.  The United States has long had the most generous legal immigration system in the world.  By overwhelming margins, the American people do not want to see immigration levels increase further.  Gallup recently reported that four out of five Americans do not want to see higher levels of immigration.  Zogby found that only 4% of likely voters believe the number of immigrants now entering the U.S. is too low.

Nothing better than a politician speaking for the American people. However, that’s standard fare. The use two of the stats is to me a bit odd. Certainly, the general electorate is insufficiently educated on the issue of legal immigration to answer any question concerning it well enough that their views should be weighed as influential. Thus, to lean on their polled views is a cop-out, and is in no sense a way to make good policy.

Americans do in fact deserve a better policy than the random selection of immigrants. That’s the core idea behind the STEM bill. But that is not to say that having a system by which every person can aspire to legally make their home here is a bad thing. Not in the least.

Taking the 1 million immigrant per year figure, the green card lottery is about 5.5% of all legal immigration. That’s not much. That fact underscores the following point: we should not be stuck here quibbling about a small piece of our immigration system, while the real issue, STEM visas, languishes.


Thus we have our current dance of a doomed bill wasting time in the House. You have to wonder if Rep. Smith knows how utterly quixotic his current campaign is. Then again, in an election year, it’s good politics to put your opponents into such a situation that they have to vote against something that they want 95% of, but can’t stomach the remainder. Then you can beat them with the vote later, and brand them as ‘anti-job, and anti-tech.’ If that makes you annoyed to hear, well, welcome to politics.

The path forward to STEM visas now are the two bills that do not do away with the diversity visa program. The removal of that program’s inclusion in the STEM Jobs Act is utter smokescreen and political hackery.

Demand more.

Top Image Credit: Michael Myers

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