Despite Congress’ decision to strike down an immigration bill, green cards for graduates is still an unsettled issue.
The House of Representatives voted down a Republican bill on Sept. 20 that would have allowed 55,000 new green cards to be given to foreigners who graduate with a master’s degree or doctorate from an American university in any of the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Many foreign graduates from U.S. universities are forced to either enter a daunting procedure to acquire a green card in the U.S. or are forced to leave the country after earning their degrees.
“The failure to achieve meaningful immigration reform before adjournment was disappointing, but Penn’s advocacy for increasing access to education and expanding opportunities in the U.S. for graduates with STEM degrees continues. We believe it is critical for our country’s future competitiveness,” Penn President Amy Gutmann said in response to Congress’ vote.
Gutmann along with 164 other university presidents — including most of the Ivy League schools — sent a letter on Sept. 13 urging congressional leaders to pass the bill.
“As leaders of universities educating the creators of tomorrow’s scientific breakthroughs, we call on you to address a critical threat to America’s preeminence as a global center of innovation and prosperity: our inability under current United States immigration policy to retain and benefit from many of the top minds educated at our universities,” the letter read.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and was fast-tracked by Republicans in the House, so although the bill could be voted on quickly, it also needed a two-thirds majority in order to pass. The bill failed 257 to 158 votes with most Republicans and approximately 30 Democrats voting for the bill.
According to the letter, in 2009, students on short-term visas made up 45 percent of all graduate students in engineering, math, computer science and physical sciences in the U.S. These students also earned 43 percent of all master’s degrees and 52 percent of all Ph.D.’s.
“In 2011, foreign-born inventors were credited contributors on more than 75 percent of patents issued to the top-10 patent-producing universities in the United States,” the letter added.
The lottery procedure, which is the current way of assigning permanent residency to immigrants, would have been eliminated had this bill passed.
Democrats who were against the bill claim that it was trading out one form of legal immigration procedure for another that would actually decrease the amount of legal immigration into the U.S., according to Rep. Zoe Lofgren (R-Calif.)
Bioengineering doctoral student Varun Aggarwala believes that immigration policy should be a decision based on economic gains.
“They should only give people green cards who will contribute to the government, not take from it,” Aggarwala said. “It should be a business decision. It should not be a humanitarian or emotional decision,” particularly in tough economic times.
The issue of legal immigration reform is one of the few issues where there is relatively strong bipartisan support.
“This is one area of policy where bipartisanism can and should occur,” College junior and Vice President of College Republicans Arielle Klepach said. “I think it’s a shame that the bill didn’t pass seeing as there seems to be consensus among some Democrats, most Republicans, and other third parties — universities, big tech companies — that this is a good move.”
Many technology companies — including Apple, Adobe and Microsoft — also sent their own letter to Congress in support of the bill.