Smith unveils tech-friendly STEM visa bill

Smith's bill would eliminate the diversity green card program and reallocate up to 55,000 green cards a year to foreign-born graduates with doctorates in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines from U.S. universities. Remaining visas would be made available to graduates with master's degrees. 

“Many of the world’s top students come to the U.S. to obtain advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and math subjects," Smith said in a statement. "We could boost economic growth and spur job creation by allowing American employers to more easily hire some of the most qualified foreign graduates of U.S. universities."

The Information Technology Industry Council -- which counts Google, IBM, Intel and Microsoft as members --and the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) have thrown their support behind the STEM Jobs Act.

"While there are a number of different immigration initiatives, the STEM Jobs Act is the one that is scheduled for a vote on Thursday," said Michael Petricone, senior vice president of government affairs for CEA. "It is imperative that something get done as soon as possible – kicking out foreign born advanced degree holders is the economic equivalent of deliberately shooting yourself in the foot. The simple fact is that immigrants with advanced degrees mean more jobs."

"We are hopeful that both sides can transcend politics and do what is clearly in the best interests of America and the US economy," Petricone added.

Top tech companies have long advocated for Congress to make it easier for foreign-born graduates with advanced STEM degrees to stay in the U.S. They argue that it would help them fill their workforce with the best and brightest talent.

While Smith's bill may have the blessing of House GOP leaders, it's not expected to see much action if it passes the lower chamber. With the election on the horizon and a limited number of working days left this year, it will be tough for Congress to move the needle on the issue.

House Democrats have also criticized the bill's proposal to eliminate the diversity visa program, arguing that it provides a legal avenue for immigration to the U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) has introduced a rival measure that is similar to Smith's STEM Jobs Act, but it would keep the diversity visa program in place.

Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) unveiled a bill that's similar to Lofgren's measure on Tuesday, called the BRAINS Act.

- This story was updated at 4:24 p.m. and corrected the number of bill co-sponsors