A Republican lawmaker has submitted legislation that would make foreign students who earn advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) at U.S. universities automatically eligible for a green card or permanent residency if they have a job offer.
If this bill by U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) sounds familiar, it should. In June, U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), introduced legislation seeking the exact same thing.
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"It's kind of a novelty to take something word for word out of another bill, but it is probably not the first time it has happen in Congress," said Lofgren, in an interview. She called it disconcerting and said she has spoken to Labrador about it.
The difference is in the scope of the bills. Labrador's bill limits itself to green cards for advanced degree graduates. What Lofgren proposed was more comprehensive. Her bill sought, among other things, green cards for foreign entrepreneurs who invest in the U.S., as well as H-1B and L-1 visa reforms, including eliminating the lowest level of the prevailing wage scale.
Lofgren doubts that Labrador's bill "can actually make it all the way to the finish line," and said there were provisions in her bill that are intended to help broaden support in both chambers.
Lofgren is on the House Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the key person in deciding what immigration bills move ahead or not.
"I haven't gotten a sense from Chairman Smith that he is eager to do anything that meaningful," said Lofgren, of immigration reform, although she said there may be some interest in moving small things.
Labrador, in a statement Friday announcing the bill, said his legislation addresses "the long-term problem of too few American students entering into math and science-based programs."
"When I practiced immigration law I regularly worked with high-tech companies in Idaho who had openings for workers with advanced degrees but, due to the small number of U.S. graduates in these fields, could not find the employees they needed," Labrador said.
Asked about the copying of Lofgren's bill, Phil Hardy, a Labrador spokesman, said that when they talked with industry groups "they all mentioned that the Lofgren bill was a great starting point," he said, in an email.
Hardy said that "as is common, our office asked legislative counsel to help draft our bill, keeping the good parts and taking out the parts that Mr. Labrador felt weren't necessary to create a vibrant STEM reform plan." STEM refers to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the so-called STEM fields.
Hardy said because everyone is trying to accomplish the same thing "the language is going to be alike." He also hoped it would encourage bipartisan cooperation.
The idea of granting green cards to STEM grads has been around for some time. U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, (R-Ariz.), for instance, reintroduced what he called the "Staple Act," earlier this year.
Industry supporters, including the IEEE-USA, which announced support for Labrador's bill, cite data that finds, for instance, that more than 55% of the master's and 63% of Ph.D graduates from U.S. universities in electrical and electronics engineering are foreign nationals.