H.R. 6429: To amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to promote innovation, investment, and research in the United States, to eliminate the diversity immigrant program, and for other purposes

H.R. 6429

To amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to promote innovation, investment, and research in the United States, to eliminate the diversity immigrant program, and for other purposes

Sponsor
Sen. Bernard Sanders

Date
September 20, 2012 (112th Congress, 2nd Session)

Staff Contact
Sarah Makin

Floor Situation

On Thursday, September 20, 2012, the House is scheduled to consider H.R. 6429, a bill that would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to promote innovation, investment, and research in the United States, to eliminate the diversity immigrant program, under a suspension of the rules requiring a two-thirds majority vote for approval.  The bill was introduced on September 18, 2012, by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Bill Summary

H.R. 6429 would eliminate the diversity lottery green card program and reallocate up to 55,000 green cards a year to new green card programs for foreign graduates of U.S. universities with advanced science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) degrees. 

The bill would create a new green card category for immigrants who have received STEM doctorates from U.S. universities.  The bill would require immigrants meet the following eligibility requirements in order to apply for a STEM green card:

  • Hold a doctorate from an eligible U.S. university in computer science, engineering, mathematics, or the physical sciences (other than biological sciences);
  • Have taken all their course work (including internet courses) while physically present in the United States;
  • Be petitioned for by an employer who has gone through labor certification to show that there are not sufficient American workers able, willing, equally qualified and available for the job (unless this requirement is waived by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as in the national interest); and
  • Agree to work for at least five years for the petitioning employer or in the U.S. in a STEM field.

H.R. 6429 would require universities meet the following requirements to be eligible institutions:

  • Be eligible for federal student financial aid programs;
  • Be accredited;
  • Be classified by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as a doctorate-granting university with very high or high level of research activity or classified by the National Science Foundation after the date of enactment, pursuant to an application by the university, as having equivalent research activity to such schools;
  • Be at least 10 years old; and
  • Not provide incentive payments to persons based on securing foreign students for the university.

The bill would also create a new green card category for immigrants who have received STEM master’s degrees from U.S. universities.  The bill would state that any of the green cards not used by aliens with doctorates are available for aliens with master’s degrees.  H.R. 6429 would require immigrants meet the following eligibility requirements in order to apply for a master’s degree STEM green card:

  • Generally have received a two year master’s degree from an eligible U.S. university in computer science, engineering, mathematics, or the physical sciences (other than biological sciences);
  • Have majored in college in a STEM field;
  • Have taken all their course work (including internet courses) while physically present in the United States;
  • Be petitioned for by an employer who has gone through labor certification (unless waived by DHS as in the national interest); and
  • Agree to work for at least five years for the petitioning employer or in the U.S. in a STEM field.

To be eligible, a university must meet the standards set forth for the doctoral STEM green card program in the bill.

The bill would require, as part of the labor certification process, that an employer submit a job order to the appropriate state workforce agency (this provision is in accord with current regulations).  In addition, the bill would require that the state workforce agency post the job order on its official agency website to make it more accessible to American workers seeking employment. 

H.R. 6429 would require that DHS post on its official website information about the employers who sponsor STEM graduates for green cards, the number of STEM graduates they sponsor and the occupations of the STEM graduates they sponsor.

The bill would allow foreign students to receive student visas to attend college in STEM fields without having to demonstrate that they have no desire to stay permanently in the U.S.  H.R. 6429 would also codify the practice that the priority date (for determining an immigrant’s place in line) for an employer’s green card petition is the date that the employer files the labor certification application.  Finally, H.R. 6429 would ensure that an immigrant who switches from one green card employment-based category to another retains their original priority date.

Background

According to the bill’s sponsor, under the current system, we educate scientists and engineers only to send them home to work for our competitors abroad.  The STEM Jobs Act would allow us to keep these students here. 

In order to safeguard the career prospects of graduating American STEM students, the STEM Jobs Act would require that employers seeking to sponsor foreign STEM graduates for green cards first successfully complete labor certification.   Labor certification is designed to ensure that the employment of an alien will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of American workers and that there are not sufficient American workers who are able, willing, qualified and available to do the job the foreign graduate will perform.  It would also require that an employer pay the foreign graduate the prevailing wage.

According to the sponsor, because of the bleak career prospects for American students graduating with PhDs in biological and biomedical fields, foreign students with degrees in these fields will not be eligible for STEM green cards.  The American public strongly supports STEM legislation.  A recent poll by Public Opinion Strategies found that 76% of likely voters support creating a new category of green cards for foreign students graduating with advanced STEM degrees from American universities who are sought after by American employers.

Cost

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has yet to release an official cost estimate for implementing H.R. 6429.