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Schumer to introduce own STEM visa bill

Senator critical of House GOP bill, plans 'Brain Act' for science, tech, engineering and maths advanced-degree graduates

September 17, 2012 06:30 PM ET

Computerworld - U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who is chair of the Senate's Immigration, Refugees and Border Security subcommittee, is introducing his own STEM visa bill to challenge a similar Republican bill in the House.

Schumer's bill, which is expected to be announced Tuesday, will provide 55,000 green cards for foreign students who graduate with advance degrees in the so-called STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

In that one respect it's similar to the House bill that U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) is introducing. Smith's bill, the STEM Jobs Act, may be brought up for a vote on Thursday.

But Schumer's bill, which has many of the features of U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren's (D-Calif.) STEM visa legislation, announced Friday, is also being used as a vehicle to attack Smith's bill for allowing for-profit schools.

The big political issue for law makers, however, may be the visa lottery. Democrats keep the diversity or green card lottery, which issues 55,000 visas annually to lottery winner. The Smith bill repurposes the 55,000 diversity visas to the STEM green cards, eliminating the lottery.

A vote this week on the Smith bill will give lawmakers an idea of the willingness of Democrats to support the Republican approach to STEM visas.

The Smith bill is expected to be raised on the suspension calendar requiring two-thirds vote for approval, which means 290 votes, including at least 50 votes from Democrats.

Congress is planning to recess Friday for the election, ensuring that any STEM visa bill, should one emerge for the president's signature, will occur during the lame duck session.

Schumer, in a summary explaining his legislation, attacks the Republican STEM bill. The Senator says that unlike the STEM Jobs Act in the House, the Brains Act, short for the Benefits to Research and American Innovation through Nationality Statutes Act of 2012, "does not outsource America's high-skilled immigration system to special interests by allowing for-profit colleges and online institutions to reap massive profits by gaming America's immigration laws to attract unqualified foreign student consumers."

The Brains Act doesn't allow non-profit schools or online institutions to participate in the STEM visa program, a move it says "will ensure that only the most qualified of students will be given access to scarce green cards."

The Republican bill allows for profit schools, but sets restrictions, requiring that the schools be doctorate-granting universities "with a very high or high level of research activity." In regard to online training, it requires students to be physically present in the U.S.

Smith, in a request for comment about Schumer's criticism, sent this response by email: "The STEM Jobs Act narrowly defines what constitutes a research university to ensure STEM green cards are only given to the top foreign students graduating from American universities."

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