Monday, December 3, 2012

On the Path to Reform

A few weeks ago, this blog highlighted the need to reform our current immigration laws.  This week we have seen concrete steps taken to reach that goal.  On Friday, November 30th, the U.S. House of Representatives voted and approved the STEM Jobs Act of 2012.  The bill now goes to the U.S. Senate for consideration and, if approved, will be presented to the President for his signature.

The STEM Jobs Act is not a new proposal.  It was presented for a vote in September, but had failed to receive the necessary 2/3 votes that it required at the time under a special voting procedure.  Now, under a more simplified majority vote, it has passed.

If enacted the STEM Jobs Act would make available 55,000 immigrant visas a year for individuals who obtain a doctorate degree in a field of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics ("STEM") from a U.S. university.  Any immigrant visas not allocated under the aforementioned criteria, will then be made available to those holding a master's degree in a STEM field from a U.S. university.  

This blog previously stated in the November 9, 2012 post, entitled "Immigration, Innovation, Stability and Confidence", that:
Innovation is the key to long-term economic sustenance. Innovation is powered by bright minds, who working for themselves or for companies, come up with life changing products, which are then marketed around the world. Therefore, the country that has the greatest control of economic and trade matters will be the one that can attract the best work talent in the world. 
The STEM Jobs Act is an effort  to achieve this goal.  It is a move to attract the best work talent in the world and to ensure that innovation continues to propel domestic job creation. 

Holders of STEM degrees are not the only ones that would benefit from the bill.  The STEM Jobs Act  would also revive the V visa program, which was first implemented under the Legal Immigration Family Equity ("LIFE") Act in 2000.  The V visa was created to allow spouses and minor children of lawful permanent residents to live in the United States in valid non-immigrant status and travel to and from the United States while they waited to obtain their permanent residence.   However, under strict requirements, the number of individuals who qualify for a V visa has drastically diminished over the years.  In order to qualify for a V visa under the LIFE Act, the individual must have been a beneficiary of a Petition for an Alien Relative filed on or before December 21, 2000 and have waited at least three years after the filing of the Petition.  Now, if approved, the STEM Jobs Act would relax the requirements of the V visa program to allow a spouse and minor children of a lawful permanent resident, whose Petition for an Alien Relative are pending for at least one year as of October 1, 2013, to apply.  This modification in the law would benefit countless number of individuals whose petitions were filed after the December 21, 2000 deadline set by the LIFE Act.   Doing so would alleviate the hardship associated with the long wait-times many have to currently endure in order to receive their permanent residence.  

Yet, despite its potential benefits to the U.S. economy and to individuals wishing to immigrate to the U.S., the STEM Jobs Act is not without controversy.  If enacted, the STEM Jobs Act would eliminate the Diversity Visa program, a lottery system administered by the U.S. government which grants 50,000 immigrant visas annually to individuals from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.  The Diversity Visa program, established under the Immigration Act of 1990, has been heavily criticized in the past few years.  Many individuals interested in the Diversity Visa program have ended up the unfortunate victims of scams.  Although, there is no fee to apply for a Diversity Visa and no guarantee of approval, many companies charge exuberant fees and falsely promise the individuals that they will be granted.  

Finally, in the face of the so-called "financial cliff" and the need for Congress to focus its major energies to avoid it before the end of the year, it may be too late at this point for the STEM Jobs Act to be properly considered this year.   Yet, if not approved, parts of the STEM Jobs Act could possibly be used as building blocks for a more comprehensive immigration reform in the next year. 

The above information is provided for information purposes. It should not be construed as legal advice or the formation of an attorney/client relationship