The Wrong Bill at the Wrong Time

Written by

U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson
U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson is serving her 10th term representing the 30th Congressional District of Texas. She is credited with originally authoring and co-authoring more than 150 bills that were passed by the House and Senate and signed into law. In December 2010, Congresswoman Johnson was elected as the first African-American and the first female Ranking Member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. From 2000 to 2002, she was the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Research and Science Education. Congresswoman Johnson continues to emphasize the need to invest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.

Congress is considering a bill by my colleague from Texas, Congressman Lamar Smith, entitled the STEM Jobs Act of 2012. While I commend Congressman Smith’s initiative to address the shortage of talent in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, this issue would best be addressed as part of a comprehensive immigration plan.

The title of the bill, with its focus on STEM, is a misnomer. As the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, I have always been a staunch supporter of investing in STEM jobs and education, and this is an issue we desperately need to address. According to the Program for International Student Assessment, the U.S. currently ranks 17th in science and 25th in math out of 34 countries. These troublesome numbers highlight the necessity of continuing to invest in STEM education. While I support STEM visas for foreign advanced degree graduates of U.S. universities, we must simultaneously focus on fostering domestic talent.

Our country is faced with many difficult decisions concerning immigration. An exhaustive overhaul of the system is needed, but Congressman Smith’s bill could further exacerbate the current problem. The STEM Jobs Act may increase some types of visas, but it eliminates the diversity visa program, a long-standing program that makes visas available to immigrants from countries that have low rates of immigration to the U.S. We cannot afford to do away with all other visa programs solely for STEM graduates.  Our history has proven that the growth and rich diversity of our nation has come from many corners, including unexpected ones.

Republicans have introduced this bill before, but failed to get the votes needed for passage. Now, here we are again with the same partisan bill, with additional flaws. The new V visa provision would give temporary V visas for certain spouses and children, but would not authorize them to work in the U.S. Under this bill, unused visas are wasted because it does not allow for rollover from one category to another.  Furthermore, it opens the door for for-profit schools to essentially sell visas to foreigners overseas, instead of restricting the visas to foreigners trained in America’s leading colleges and universities.

Ultimately, this bill is disingenuous to immigrants and their families. I strongly support encouraging foreign STEM talent trained in the U.S. to remain here and contribute to our economy and society, but not at the expense of taking steps backward in the effort to reform our immigration system. Congressman Smith’s bill takes an ill-conceived approach to a small piece of a much bigger problem, and that is not the type of policy America needs.

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