House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) introduced a bill Wednesday that would pave the way for up to 55,000 foreign graduate students at American universities to obtain a green card.
Tech companies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have bemoaned the shortage of American students earning advanced degrees in math, engineering and science; half of all graduate students in those subjects at U.S. universities are foreign-born.
Issa's bill would make it easier for those graduate students to stay in the country after earning their degree by allowing up to 55,000 graduates holding advanced degrees from U.S. universities to earn green cards, provided they have found employment "in the sciences or medicine."
Issa has introduced the same bill in two previous sessions of Congress, but the odds of passage have improved significantly with the GOP in charge of the House.
The bill would transfer visas from the diversity visa program, which uses a lottery to encourage more immigrants from countries with the lowest rates of immigration to the United States.
The diversity visa program has been a point of contention for Republicans, who have voiced concerns about instances of fraud within the program.
According to the text of the legislation, applicants must have earned a degree inside the U.S. within the previous five years and must have found a position that "will substantially benefit prospectively the national economy of the United States."
Many international graduate students wishing to stay in the U.S. after completing their degree attempt to find employment with a U.S. firm willing to sponsor them for an H-1B visa.
But the number of H-1B visas is capped, and applicants' chances at a green card are often tied to their jobs, giving firms additional leverage.
Issa's bill would give applicants an opportunity to earn permanent residency, which would eventually allow them to change occupations or start their own companies.