The bill allowing highly educated students in science and technology to immigrate cleared the House on a 245-139 vote Friday, with 27 Democrats joining 218 Republicans.
Idaho GOP Rep. Raul Labrador is a co-sponsor of the STEM Jobs Act of 2012, H.R. 6429. It would eliminate the foreign residency requirement for foreign students with a master's or higher degree in a field of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) from a U.S. institution of higher education and a job offer from a U.S. employer.
Most Democrats opposed the bill because it ends a "diversity visa" program that provides 55,000 annual visas. The Senate, controlled by the Democrats, is unlikely to take up the measure in the lame-duck session of Congress, but it could serve as part of negotiations when a new Congress convenes in January.
Shortly after the vote, a left-leaning reform group, America's Voice Education Fund, called the effort "faux reform" and said, "Republicans need to go big or lose big."
Labrador, who was born in Puerto Rico and practiced immigration law as an Idaho attorney, has long urged the GOP to soften its stance on immigration. He reiterated that view after Republican Mitt Romney received just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in the presidential election.
Labrador said Friday on NPR that he supports a GOP version of the DREAM Act that does not offer a pathway to citizenship. That bill also was panned by America's Voice.
Labrador said inviting the highly educated to stay makes good economic sense: "They already come here to be educated, but when they graduate, our system is so inefficient that they return home or move to Canada, where they compete against us."
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