In their first effort to tackle immigration reform since President Obama’s re-election, House Republicans on Friday advanced a bill that would add visas for highly skilled workers while reducing legal immigration overall. The measure, which passed by a vote of 245-139, had failed just two months ago, before Republicans lost Hispanic support in record numbers.
The STEM Act expands the number of visas available to international students who earn masters and doctorates in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) fields at U.S. universities, while also cutting the Diversity Visa program and reducing the number of total visas available. Under the measure, unused STEM visas are not re-allocated to other immigrants and simply disappear.
While 27 Democrats supported STEM, party leaders have proposed alternatives that would add visas for STEM graduates and entrepreneurs without taking away another category of visas. “Everyone agrees on STEM visas, so why aren’t we just voting on STEM visas?” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) asked during Friday’s debate. The Obama administration, meanwhile, announced its opposition to the measure earlier this week, emphasizing its commitment to an immigration reform plan that creates a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
“The Administration does not support narrowly tailored proposals that do not meet the President’s long-term objectives with respect to comprehensive immigration reform,” according to a statement.