House approves STEM bill, but it's no victory

With White House and Senate opposition, the vote likely marks the end of STEM visa debate during Congress's lame duck session

The U.S. House on Friday approved a Republican-backed STEM visa bill, but the legislation has likely reached a dead end.

The White House opposes the bill and the Senate is unlikely to take it up in the current lame duck session.

The Republican-sponsored bill, the STEM Jobs Act (H.R. 6429), was approved by a 245-139 vote.

This bill, authored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), creates up to 55,000 visas annually for people from other countries who have earned advanced degrees in the so-called STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) at U.S. universities.

The White House likes the idea of STEM visas, but it wants the legislation to be part of a comprehensive immigration bill. Democrats are fearful of fracturing industry support for immigration reform if they treat employment visas in separate bills.

In a statement issued after the bill was passed, Smith said, "We could boost economic growth and spur job creation by allowing American employers to more easily hire some of the most qualified foreign graduates of U.S. universities. These students have the ability to start a company that creates jobs or come up with an invention that could jump-start a whole new industry."

Democrats opposed a number of specific points in the bill, including the fact that it would eliminate the diversity lottery that awards about 55,000 visas annually.

Those visas would have been repurposed for the STEM program.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His email address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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