WASHINGTON - There's a new push in the Senate to set aside as many as 55,000 green cards to science, technology, engineering and math graduates -- so-called STEM workers.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced a bill Tuesday to make green cards, or permanent residency, available to students who earn an advance degree, master's or Ph.D. from a research university, meaning a university that has received a federal funding for research.
To accomplish this, Cornyn's bill eliminates the so-called diversity lottery, which today makes 55,000 green cards available via a lottery, and makes those visas available instead to STEM grads.
The legislation, called the Securing the Talent America Requires for the 21st Century Act of 2012, or STAR Act, doesn't appear to increase the overall number of green cards allocated annually.
Cornyn, as the ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security, is in a position to get attention for his bill. But efforts to increase green cards from both parties have been stymied by broader immigration issues.
Lawmakers who favor bills such as the Dream Act have long worried that if tech gets what it wants it could peel away political support for more comprehensive reform efforts.
The Dream Act would provide a path to green cards to children of undocumented immigrants, who, in many cases, have been raised and educated in the U.S.
Cornyn's effort has the support of the IEEE-USA, which has backed other efforts to make green cards for available for STEM workers.
"We want skilled foreign workers who want to remain in the U.S. to basically stay and contribute to our economic growth and our job creation," said Keith Grzelak, vice president of government relations and volunteer for the IEEE, and also an engineer and attorney. "It always seemed crazy to me that we trained these people here and then they have to leave."
There is bipartisan support in the House for similar types of green card legislation focused on STEM grads, but one sponsor of a bill, U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), recently said the a "toxic environment" in Congress was preventing people from accomplishing "reasonable things."
Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing 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 e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.