Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer opposed passage of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Jobs Act on the Senate floor Wednesday, claiming that the bill includes “anti-immigrant language” and pales in comparison to his own similar piece of legislation, the Benefits to Research and American Innovation through Nationality Statutes Act.
Texas Republican Sen. Jon Cornyn countered that Schumer’s bill has not passed the House.
The STEM Jobs Act, proposed by Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith and widely supported by Republicans, would provide 55,000 green card visas to immigrant students pursuing science, engineering, technology, and mathematics at U.S. colleges. Designed to allow the U.S. to “retain more of the highly skilled” international workforce studying in American colleges, the STEM Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives Friday by a 245 to 139-vote margin.
But Schumer is not pleased. He claimed that the STEM Jobs Act is not comprehensive enough, and would simply transfer available green-card opportunities to STEM students instead of creating new immigration opportunities.
Sen. Rand Paul called Schumer’s objection Wednesday “empty partisanship.”
In typical Capitol Hill fashion, both sides agree to the fundamental objective of the STEM Jobs Act, but passionately disagree on the legislative plan by which to accomplish it.
Both the STEM Jobs Act and Schumer’s BRAINS Act would allocate exactly 55,000 new STEM visas per year.
The main difference between the two proposals is that the STEM Jobs Act would eliminate the diversity visa program, which currently provides 55,000 visas per year to randomly-selected candidates from countries currently underrepresented in the United States. Schumer’s bill would leave that program in place.
The push to increase the diversity of nations represented in our legal immigration system is part of Democratic plans for comprehensive immigration reform. Southwestern Republicans like former New Mexico congresswoman Heather Wilson, however, have criticized the “random lottery” aspect of the diversity visa program, advocating instead for “merit”-based selection criteria.
Republicans believe Schumer’s bill has no chance of passing, and that the STEM Jobs Act has a more viable chance to become law.
“We need to break up the elephant into bite-size pieces. I want to break this up into passable bill by passable bill,” Republican Rep. Darrell Issa told reporters after the House vote Friday.
The Obama administration also opposes the STEM Act for its specifics rather than for its objective.
“[T]he Administration strongly supports legislation to attract and retain foreign students who graduate with advanced STEM degrees,” the administration noted in a statement last week. “However, the Administration does not support narrowly tailored proposals that do not meet the President’s long-term objectives with respect to comprehensive immigration reform.”
Sen. Schumer’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.