The Wall Street Journal has reported that House Judiciary Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) plans to introduce legislation to provide extra green cards for certain international students. (Find article here, registration required.)
As described, the legislation would likely have a positive impact on skilled immigrants.
For several years there has been great interest in the high tech community in exempting graduates of U.S. universities from employment-based green card quotas. In particular, the focus has been on individuals with advanced degrees from U.S. universities in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) fields. Some high tech executives have referred to such legislation as stapling a green card to the diploma of certain international students. In fact, a bill by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) is called the STAPLE Act (H.R. 399).
What Would New Legislation Likely Include?
The Wall Street Journal summarizes the likely contents of a new bill aimed at international students with Ph.D.s: “Rep. Lamar Smith (R., Texas), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he plans to introduce legislation providing up to 10,000 visas a year to foreign students graduating from US universities with doctorates in engineering, information technology and the natural sciences.”
It is unclear from the description whether the intention is to create a new category or an exemption from the current 140,000 annual quota for employment-based green cards.
Which Universities Would Be Eligible?
A key question in any proposed legislation is whether degrees from all universities will allow international students to qualify. One concern expressed by lawmakers is a “diploma mill” could come into operation seeking to attract students by offering a way to gain a green card easier. For that reason any legislation is likely to restrict degrees to those obtained from universities in operation for a number of years and possibly only “research” universities. The definition of research universities and how many would be included in such a definition will remain an issue.
Which Degrees Would Be Eligible?
Another issue is whether legislation would be restricted to only Ph.D.s or to include recipients of masters degrees as well. Based on the Wall Street Journal article, it appears Rep. Smith would like to limit any bill to Ph.D.s. only.
A related matter is Ph.D.s in which fields. Members of Congress have focused on degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) fields. It is possible Rep. Smith’s legislation would be narrower. In the interview with the Wall Street Journal, Rep. Smith mentioned engineering, information technology and the natural sciences as eligible areas.
It is likely any legislation would require the individual receive a job offer from an employer before being eligible for a green card.
One of the most burdensome aspects of the employment-based immigration process is labor certification. That is a process that can cost employers several thousand dollars and can take 6 months to two years to gain approval from the U.S. Department of Labor. The process is meant to show no other qualified American is available to fill the job. Proving that often involves paying for advertisements and showing the results to the Department of Labor. Any exemption or special visa would be much more desirable if the applicant did not have to endure the labor certification process.
Legislation limited to Ph.D. recipients would have a two-fold impact. First, it would likely allow for a green card to be received in a timely fashion for such individuals without regard to country of origin. (One assumes any legislation would exempt the recipients from the per country limit.) Even individuals who earn a Ph.D. could wait years for a green card in the employment-based second preference category if they are born in India or China. Second, adding extra visas to the employment-based immigrant category would free up numbers even for individuals who are not eligible, thereby reducing overall waiting times by a modest amount.
Rep. Smith’s bill would be notable because a bill introduced by the chairman of the committee with jurisdiction, in this case the House Judiciary Committee, has a far greater chance of moving through the legislative process than bills introduced by other members of Congress. Once introduced, it will be legislation worth watching.