Time to STEM The Visa Lottery?

Posted: Sep 25, 2012 12:01 AM
Time to STEM The Visa Lottery?
Immigration is often portrayed as a complex issue. In reality, it really comes down to two simple questions:

1. How many immigrants should we allow into this country?

2. How should decide how to select those immigrants?

Currently, America accepts over one million permanent legal immigrants and nearly as many temporary workers each year. Most of these immigrants are not selected based upon their skills or what they will contribute to this country, but through the process of family reunification. I suspect that many who claim that immigration is complicated do so because they know that if the issue were to presented to the American people with simple facts, they would demand that immigration be reprioritized and reduced.

I have been amazed that, in spite of persistently high unemployment rates, the Republican leadership has failed to take any steps to try to reduce overall immigration. The closest they came was when the Judiciary Committee approved the bipartisan SAFE For America Act last year to eliminate the 55,000 visas issued each year through the Diversity Visa Lottery.

Perhaps the most insane aspect of the Diversity Lottery is that it grants thousands of visas to terrorist supporting countries including Iran, Syria and Sudan. Mohammed Atta, the 9-11 mastermind, attempted to receive a visa through this process. He was not selected, but other terrorists such as LAX shooter Hesham Mohamed Hedayet, who killed 2 Americans, and Detroit sleeper cell member Karim Koubriti entered this country on a visa they obtained from the lottery. (So much for those background checks.)

Getting rid of the Diversity Visa Lottery should be a no-brainer, but unfortunately the House Leadership never put the SAFE For America Act up for a vote. Last week, however, the House voted on Rep. Lamar Smith’s (R-TX) STEM Jobs Act, which would reallocate the 55,000 diversity lottery visas to immigrants in working in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields.

While this is no doubt an improvement over the Diversity Lottery, I am not convinced that we need these additional workers. We should allow the best and brightest of the World into this country (and in fact, we already have unlimited O-1 visas for such people), but Americans in all sectors of the economy are struggling to find work. According to the recent study Hard Times: College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings put out by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, 8.2% computer and mathematics, 7.5% of engineering, 7.7% of science majors who recently graduated from college are unemployed.

Because Republicans tried to fast track the STEM Jobs Act, they needed 2/3 of the House to pass it. Virtually all of the Democrats voted against it and it failed to get the required votes. If I were still in Congress, I would probably vote for the bill, because STEM Visas are relatively saner than the Diversity Lottery. It is nice to know that they are taking some baby steps into thinking about how we should select immigrants. However, this does not change the fact that Republicans in Congress need to start addressing overall immigration numbers.

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