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Public Statements

STEM Jobs Act of 2012

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. ZOE LOFGREN of California. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

For more than a decade, I've been working to increase high-skilled visas for foreign students with advanced STEM degrees from America's greatest research universities. I'm fortunate enough to see firsthand the new technologies, the new companies, the new jobs they create every day in my district in the Silicon Valley. For that reason, it pains me greatly that I cannot support this bill.

First, although this bill ostensibly seeks to increase STEM visas, it appears to have another, in my opinion, more sinister purpose--to actually reduce legal immigration levels. The bill does it in two ways.

On its face, the bill eliminates as many visas as it creates by killing the Diversity Visa Program which benefits immigrants from countries that have low rates of immigration to the United States. But the bill also discreetly ensures that many of the new visas will go unused by preventing unused visas after 2014 from flowing to other immigrants stuck in decades-long backlogs. This is not the way our immigration system works.

I believe the only reason the bill is written in this fashion is to satisfy anti-immigrant organizations that have long lobbied for reduced levels of immigration.

My colleagues on the other side of the aisle are fond of saying that while they are opposed to illegal immigration, they are very much in favor of legal immigration. But this bill shows the opposite.

Supporters of legal immigration would not have killed one immigration program to benefit another, nor would they agree to a Grover Norquist-style no-new-immigration pledge that will continue to strangle our immigration system for years to come.

Agreeing to zero-sum rules now means never helping the almost 5 million legal immigrants currently stuck in backlogs.

The Republican bill also expressly allows for-profit and online schools to participate. While the bill contains language limiting immediate participation, it unquestionably opens the door to future participation.

I cannot support a bill that will allow such schools to essentially sell visas to rich, young foreigners.

The vast majority of Democrats in this Chamber strongly support STEM visas. I've introduced a bill that creates STEM visas without eliminating other visas or including for-profit colleges. It has the support of the Black, Hispanic, and Asian Caucus chairs. Bring that to the floor, and you'll see strong support from Democrats. It should also get strong Republican support.

Republicans in the past, including very conservative Members, have supported STEM legislation that does not eliminate other types of visas. In the 110th Congress, I introduced a bill that did just that with very conservative Republicans such as Texas Members John Carter and Pete Sessions as cosponsors. If they can support new STEM visas without offsets, so can Republicans today.

There is a unique opportunity here to craft a balanced, bipartisan bill that can pass the Senate; but our majority has instead chosen to jam through a partisan bill that has no chance of becoming law, solely, I think, to score political points.

It seems the only reason they have chosen to pursue this strategy right before an election is an attempt to appear more immigrant friendly than their record proves them to be and perhaps to curry favor with high-tech groups.

But this is an anti-immigration bill, and it only sets back the high-skilled visa cause.

I believe if we take a step back and work in good faith on a bipartisan basis, we can pass a STEM bill with overwhelming support. I am eager to work with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to do just that. It's the right thing to do for the district I represent, and for our country. But this flawed bill is one I cannot support.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Ms. ZOE LOFGREN of California. I will be brief. I do feel the need to address the issue that the chairman has raised; I think he misunderstands the issue.

We have, in U.S. universities, graduating in STEM fields 10,000 Ph.D. and 30,000 masters degrees a year. Assuming that all 40,000 want to stay in the United States--and that is not a valid assumption--we will not use up all of the 50,000 visas. It is true that the EB2s might apply, but many of them did not go to American universities. So the easiest way to make sure these visas are not eliminated is to do what happens in all the rest of the immigration EB categories, which is to allow those visas to flow.

Finally, I just have to say I have never once been asked by a high-tech company to have some online university be the awarder of the Ph.D. It's not a demand, it's not an interest that anybody in the technology field has ever expressed to me.

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Ms. ZOE LOFGREN of California. Mr. Speaker, I think this is a disappointing day at a time when we look for leadership on the part of the majority to bring us together. Instead, we have a partisan bill before us.

We have 54 cosponsors on the bill that we've introduced. The remarkable thing is that we have support across the entire breadth of the Democratic Caucus for STEM visas. The things that have been said about the Diversity Visa today are simply wrong.

They remind me of the warnings we got a short while ago about the ``terror babies'' who would somehow emerge after 21 years. It's absurd.

We need to vote against this bill, but I think we can quickly reconvene and get to the bipartisan effort that this country deserves.

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