STEM Green Card V. Green Card Lottery

Cyrus D. Mehta

"font-family: 'Times New Roman', serif; font-size: 12pt; line-height: 18px;">
There is a raging debate presently in the halls of Congress.
Almost all of our elected representatives, no matter whether they
are Democrat or Republican, are in favor of providing an easier
pathway for foreign students who have graduated with an advanced
degree from a US university in a STEM (Science, Technology,
Engineering or Math) field. In an age of polarization and
gridlock in Congress - added by controversy over the expansion of
immigration benefits to foreign nationals when unemployment is
high - there is amazing bipartisan support for STEM foreign
students. Indeed,
"font-family: 'Times New Roman', serif; font-size: 12pt; line-height: 18px;">
150 university presidents and chancellors have also appealed for
green cards for STEM graduates
"font-family: 'Times New Roman', serif; font-size: 12pt; line-height: 18px;">

"font-family: 'Times New Roman', serif; font-size: 12pt; line-height: 18px;">

"font-family: 'Times New Roman', serif; font-size: 16px; line-height: 18px;">
Still, a Republican sponsored
"font-family: 'Times New Roman', serif; font-size: 16px; line-height: 18px;">
STEM Jobs Act, HR 6429, failed to pass the House
"font-family: 'Times New Roman', serif; font-size: 16px; line-height: 18px;">
on Thursday, September 20, 2012 with a two third majority. It
was sponsored by Lamar Smith (R-TX), who otherwise generally
favors bills that restrict immigration. It was rejected 257-158
mainly on party lines that would have provided 55,000 green cards
to foreign students graduating in STEM fields. First dibs would
have gone to foreign students with doctorates in STEM fields from
a US university, and the remaining would have gone to foreign
students who have graduated with master’s degrees. These
students would still need an employer to sponsor them, and they
would need to agree to work for 5 years for that employer. The
employer would also need to obtain a labor certification to
demonstrate that there are insufficient American workers
available for the job.

"font-family: "Times New Roman","serif"; font-size: 12.0pt; line-height: 115%;">
So why did it fail? The catch was that the STEM Jobs Act would
have eliminated the diversity green card lottery, which provides
55,000 green cards for people born in countries with low sending
immigration rates to the US. 5,000 of these 55,000 can be
deducted for cancellation of removal grantees under the
Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA).
The elimination of the green card lottery was opposed mainly by
Democrats, and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), the ranking member of the
House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy, proposed a
similar bill, but preserving the green card lottery.

"font-family: "Times New Roman","serif"; font-size: 12.0pt; line-height: 115%;">
The reason why the STEM Jobs Act needed a 2/3 super majority is
because it was being considered while the normal rules were under
suspension. The rules are suspended generally for
non-controversial bills but this bill was hardly that. It was
a clever political ploy by the Republicans
to force this bill
without consideration of the Lofgren alternative under the normal
House rules, which preserved the green card lottery, so that they
could go back to their constituents and claim that they did favor
an important immigration bill, which the Democrats did not

"font-family: "Times New Roman","serif"; font-size: 12.0pt; line-height: 115%;">
In my opinion, I like STEM green cards to co-exist with the green
card lottery, which provides an option for anyone anywhere in the
world to come to American to make it. While most other
immigration benefits require a family member or employer as a
sponsor, unless you are a rich investor under the EB-5, the green
card lottery is not tethered to any sponsor. While it is
important for the US to attract STEM students to innovate and
pioneer new technologies here, it is equally important to attract
others who can also become successful and contribute to the US
with their optimism and industry. Today’s halal vendor
serving delicious falafel from his street cart, who came through
the green card lottery, can tomorrow own a chain of restaurants
employing others, and still delighting Americans with a unique
ethnic cuisine. We need innovators with STEM degrees as well as
folks who can enrich the fabric of America with their cuisine and
other endeavors. Moreover, not all lottery winners are unskilled
or uneducated. The green card lottery could also attract educated
people and those who have already succeeded in

"font-family: "Times New Roman","serif"; font-size: 12.0pt; line-height: 115%;">
Indeed, the green card lottery is reminiscent of what America
used to be without a formal immigration program. Immigrants who
came to America through the centuries were like the plucky green
card lottery winners of today. They took a chance and came to the
shores of America. They were not scientists or the equivalent of
STEM graduates of their day. Yet, America’s greatness was
built on the hard work and boundless optimism of these ordinary

"font-family: "Times New Roman","serif"; font-size: 12.0pt; line-height: 115%;">
Even though the STEM Jobs Act failed, it shows that there can be
bi-partisan consensus. The bill was not perfect, and would not
have improved the broken immigration system. For example, unused
STEM green cards would not have been re-allocated to the
backlogged employment-based or family immigration preferences,
where some are waiting endlessly for decades before they can get
a green card. Perhaps, in the future, if Republicans do not like
the green card lottery, they can settle for an increase in the
employment and family-based categories instead as a compromise
with the Democrats. But despite its failure to get passed, at
least the STEM Jobs Act is a down payment for future bipartisan
efforts on immigration. This effort also shows that immigration
can be reformed in increments rather than comprehensively,
although the latter would be more desirable in a perfect world.
For example, Senator Schumer (D-NY) "">
has offered his own BRAINS Act
, which would similarly grant
green cards to 55,000 STEM students and preserve the green card
lottery, and he has also invited Lamar Smith back to the
negotiating table!

This post originally appeared on "">
The Insightful Immigration Blog
on September 21, 2012.

About The Authors

, a graduate of Cambridge University and Columbia
Law School, is the Managing Member of Cyrus D. Mehta &
Associates, PLLC in New York City. He is the current Chair of
AILA's Ethics Committee and former Chair of AILA's Pro Bono
Committee. He is also the former Chair of the Board of Trustees
of the American Immigration Council (2004-06) and Chair of the
Committee on Immigration and Nationality Law (2000-03) of the New
York City Bar Association. He is a frequent speaker and writer on
various immigration-related issues, including on administrative
remedies and ethics, and is also an adjunct associate professor
of Law at Brooklyn Law School, where he teaches a course entitled
"Immigration and Work." Mr. Mehta received the AILA 2011 Michael
Maggio Memorial Award for his outstanding efforts in providing
pro bono representation in the immigration field.

The opinions expressed in this article
do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.