US Congress unable to agree on technology work visas
20 September 2012
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Republicans and Democrats are unable to reach agreement in the United States Congress over legislation that would allow more foreign-born graduates from US universities to get visas allowing them to work in the US. There are currently two bills before Congress which would grant more visas to science and technology graduates. One was sponsored by the Republicans and the other by the Democrats. Because they will not support each other's laws, it seems that neither bill will be passed. This situation is called 'gridlock' and commentators say that, because of hardening attitudes among Congressmen and women, Congress is becoming gridlocked increasingly frequently.
Earlier this year, the Republicans introduced the STEM Jobs Act 2012. The act proposes the reallocation of 55,000 visas currently issued under the Diversity Immigrant Visa program. These visas would be issued instead to graduates from US universities in the STEM subjects; Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Republican member of the House of Representatives Lamar Smith said 'We could boost and spur job creation by allowing American employers more easily to hire some of the most qualified foreign graduates of US universities'. Mr Smith said that any of the graduates might come up with a technological innovation which, in turn, might create 'a whole new industry'.
However, Democrats oppose the Republican act because of the commitment to cut the Diversity Immigrant Visa program. This program was introduced in 1990 to encourage citizens from countries with lower rates of immigration to the US to apply for visas. More Democrats supported the STEM Jobs Act until the clause reallocating the visas from the Diversity Immigration Visa program was introduced to the Act.
Since the introduction of that clause, Democrats have withdrawn their support for the STEM Jobs Act and introduced an alternative act; The Attracting the Best and the Brightest Act 2012. The Democrats' act would enable some technology graduates to get a two year work visa. The academic requirements would be stricter than under the STEM Jobs Act. It would not see jobs cut from the Diversity Immigrant Program and would guarantee equal pay with equivalent American workers for visa holders.
Congress is now split almost entirely on party lines with Republicans and one or two Democrats supporting the STEM Jobs Act and the majority of Democrats supporting the Attracting the Brightest and The Best Act. Despite the fact that both parties say they want to increase the number of visas granted to able technology graduates, because they will not compromise, it seems that neither bill will be passed and no new visas will be granted.
The STEM Jobs Act will be voted on in the House of Representatives on Tuesday but, because it would require a two thirds majority to pass, without support from the Democrats, it has no chance of becoming law. US political commentators have noted that recently elected members of Congress are increasingly strident and less willing to compromise and, as a result, it is increasingly difficult for any legislation to pass.
American industry bodies The Information Technology Industry Council, The Consumer Electronics Association are both backing the STEM Jobs Act. In a joint statement they said 'Hiring advanced degree STEM professionals is a key to creating and retaining jobs in a variety of sectors in our innovation economy.
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