The controversial H.R. 6429, otherwise known as the “STEM Jobs Act” (Rep. Smith, R-TX and 68 co-sponsors), proposes to create new “V” visa categories for families awaiting reunification as well as visas for Ph.D and Masters graduates in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. The Act would, however, eliminate the (poorly implemented) Diversity Visa Lottery program that makes green cards available to certain individuals from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. The STEM Jobs Act has made it through the House, but will be almost certainly defeated in the Senate, where Democrats hold both a majority and a soft spot for the Lottery.
The White House, despite having repeatedly highlighted the substantial deficiency the nation faces in the STEM fields, has quickly declared its opposition to the STEM Jobs Act, indicating that it “does not support narrowly tailored proposals that do not meet the President’s long-term objectives with respect to comprehensive immigration reform.”
In other words, the Administration wants immigration reform on an "all or nothing" basis. This is more than a little puzzling given that during the latest election cycle, President Obama repeatedly raised the issue of the many difficult decisions necessitated in the short-term so as to invigorate the U.S. economy. This is not one of those difficult decisions.
The Diversity Visa Lottery supports an important premise but it can never objectively contribute to our national interest to the same degree the STEM Jobs Act would. Generally speaking, and with specific regard to economic potential and contribution, the difference between a graduate of a foreign high school and the holder of a U.S. Ph.D. in Mathematical Biology or Aerospace Engineering is clear. But what beggars belief is the fact that the high school graduate from an eligible country can win a green card via the Lottery, but said U.S. Ph.D. holder from India or China must patiently wait in a line for years to receive the same prize (the stars also have to align a few times along the way). These students and their families have already invested billions into our economy, $22.7 billion in 2011 as per the Journal of International and Intercultural Communication International. This figure would certainly increase if the STEM Jobs Act were to pass.
Last year, Yale Professor of Law Peter Schuck advocated the termination of the Diversity Visa Lottery in lieu of granting visas to those who would most benefit the country:
"Immigration is in many ways the lifeblood, future, and salvation of an aging, technology-driven America. The stakes could hardly be higher in getting our immigration policy right and bringing in those who can provide what we need: skills, entrepreneurs, close family members and investment.
A green card to the U.S. is one of the most valuable pieces of paper in the history of the world. So why would we want to give roughly 5% of them each year to people who, for all we know, have nothing more to offer America than a high school education, a winning ticket and (in many cases) an agent they paid to help them game the lottery system?
No sensible public policy would do such a foolish thing. Instead, like other immigrant-receiving nations, we should handpick our immigrants (refugees aside) with a view to our national interests and the individual attributes that they bring to the table. In contrast, the diversity lottery, like most wasteful programs, reflects four dubious characteristics: powerful friends in Congress, a superficially appealing but spurious rationale, a supposed free ride for taxpayers, and status quo inertia."
Professor Schuck’s article provides several arguments supporting new immigration policies in favor of actively prioritizing the "best and the brightest." Yes, the DV Lottery is important, but our immediate need is to retain and increase our advanced degree STEM resources so that this country can continue to compete internationally and lead in new technologies.
Sadly, it looks as if the STEM Jobs Act will fail in the Senate unless the White House is willing to acknowledge that ”Change” often occurs a step at a time and not always in leaps and bounds.