Monday, December 10, 2012

STEM Act Approved by the House of Representatives

On Friday November 30, the House of Representatives approved the STEM Jobs Act, which would create 55,000 green cards annually for foreign students who receive graduate science, technology, engineering or math degrees in U.S. universities. This measure would aid the economy by keeping talented workers in the United States, and it would enable spouses and children of these graduates to obtain their green cards after one year. However, although most people support the concept, Congress remains divided on the issue because, in order to create these special visas for skilled workers, House members voted to eliminate the Diversity Visa Lottery Program and set up the STEM Act in its place.

The Diversity Visa Lottery Program set green cards aside for countries with low immigration to the United States, created in 1990 in response to immigration policies that were biased toward people with family already in the U.S. or toward those who filled specific immigration needs. Critics of the program claim that it is vulnerable to fraud because of the difficulty of conducting background checks in some countries. Supporters, however, claim that without it, the country would be dominated by immigrants from only a handful of countries, primarily India, China, Mexico, and the U.K. They argue that lawmakers should not have to choose between the two programs, pointing out that both are valuable.

The White House, in a statement opposing the bill, stated that while it was “ready to begin serious debate on the need to fix our broken immigration system,” the administration refused to support “narrowly-tailored proposals” that did not lead to comprehensive immigration reform.

The bill moves to the Senate for voting next.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Republicans Introduce the ACHIEVE Act

On November 27, Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and Jon Kyl introduced the Assisting Children and Helping them Improve their Educational Value for Employment Act (ACHIEVE Act) as an alternative to the DREAM Act. The proposal would establish a special visa system for immigrants who entered the United States as children without proper immigration procedures, granting those who wished to pursue a college or technical degree or serve in the U.S. military a W-1 Visa. DREAMers, however, do not support the bill as a viable solution for undocumented immigrants, preferring the DREAM Act instead.

There are several major differences between the DREAM Act and the ACHIEVE Act. The DREAM Act required beneficiaries to have been under 16-years-old when they entered the United States and currently under the age of 30. The ACHIEVE Act, on the other hand, requires applicants to have been younger than 14-years-old when they were brought to the U.S., and currently under 28 (or under 32, if they have obtained a bachelor’s degree). Both proposals require good moral characters, a high school diploma or GED, five years of continuous presence in the United States, and background checks, but the ACHIEVE Act would also require beneficiaries to check in with the Department of Homeland Security every six months. In addition, ACHIEVE Act applicants would have to demonstrate knowledge of the English language, U.S. history, and the principles of the U.S. government. The additional limitations make the proposition unappealing.

Essentially, opponents reject the ACHIEVE Act because it fails to provide a special pathway to citizenship, as the DREAM Act would have done. Instead, under the ACHIEVE Act beneficiaries are given three special visas for legal status, eventually allowing them to be on the regular path toward potential citizenship and permanent residency.