President opposes GOP visa bill

The Obama administration on Wednesday announced its opposition to an immigration bill by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) that is designed to boost the number of visas for foreign-born graduates with advanced technical degrees from U.S. universities, saying it fails to fulfill the President's long-term goal of achieving comprehensive immigration reform.

The House is slated to vote on Smith's bill, the STEM Jobs Act, on Friday. The bill is expected to win backing from GOP members and pass the House, but likely won't see action in the Senate.

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In its statement of administration policy, the Obama administration said it "strongly supports" legislation aimed at keeping talented foreign-born graduates with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines from American universities in the U.S. as part of its push for immigration reform. The administration also voiced support for creating a startup visa that would allow foreign-born entrepreneurs to launch new businesses in the U.S., but said it would not back piecemeal immigration bills that do not address the broken immigration system. 

"The administration is deeply committed to building a 21st-century immigration system that meets the nation's economic and security needs through common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform," the statement of administration policy reads.  "However, the administration does not support narrowly tailored proposals that do not meet the President's long-term objectives with respect to comprehensive immigration reform."

Smith's bill was voted on under suspension of the rules this fall but failed to secure the two-thirds support needed to clear the House.  House Democrats, along with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Congressional Black Caucus, have sounded alarm over the bill's proposal to eliminate the diversity visa program, which allocates visas to people from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S. via a random selection process. Immigrants from African nations have generally come to the U.S. through the diversity visa program.

Trade associations that represent tech companies such as Microsoft, Intel and Google have backed the bill. Passing high-skilled immigration reform legislation has long been a top policy issue for the industry.

President Obama has signaled that he plans to make a push for immigration reform next year and the administration's statement on Wednesday echoed that sentiment.

"The administration is encouraged that the Congress appears to be ready to begin serious debate on the need to fix our broken immigration system and looks forward to working with both Democrats and Republicans to enact a common-sense approach that includes reforms to the legal immigration system," the administration said. "Such an approach must provide for attracting and retaining highly skilled immigrants and uniting Americans with their family members more quickly, as well as other important priorities such as establishing a pathway for undocumented individuals to earn their citizenship, holding employers accountable for breaking the law, and continuing efforts to strengthen the nation's robust enforcement system."

Republicans have also been talking about this hot-button domestic issue after Obama won strong support from Latinos in November's election.