STEM Jobs Act faces tough odds for House passage


Also complicating prospects for Smith's bill is a competing measure from Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.). Lofgren's bill, the Attracting the Best and Brightest Act (ABBA), is similar to Smith's, but notably keeps the diversity program in place.

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The California Democrat hurriedly introduced the bill last week after House Republican leaders decided to fast-track Smith's bill to the floor. Lofgren's measure gives House Democrats an out for voting against the STEM Jobs Act.

By putting Smith's bill up for a vote under suspension rules, House GOP leaders shut down the opportunity for Democrats to bring up Lofgren's measure as an amendment. Still, tech insiders say this strategy also makes it harder for Smith's bill to pass the House.

If the STEM Jobs Act gets a strong vote, it will help tech companies when they go to the Senate and advocate for the upper chamber to tackle STEM visa legislation, one tech lobbyist said.

In a "Dear Colleague" letter sent to House Democrats on Wednesday, Lofgren argued that Republicans are making an 11th-hour push for a high-skilled immigration bill ahead of the election to "score political points."

"Democrats strongly support STEM visas, and we believe there is a unique opportunity  here to craft a balanced, bipartisan bill that can pass the Senate," Lofgren said. "But the Republicans have instead chosen to rush a partisan bill that has no chance of becoming law to score political points. It seems the only reason our colleagues have chosen to pursue this strategy right before an election is to attempt to appear more immigrant-friendly and to curry favor with high-tech groups."

But Smith stands by his bill and says it will "help maintain our country’s place as the world’s leader in innovation.”

“I am surprised Democrats would vote against an important bill that will help us create jobs, increase our competitiveness, and spur our innovation," Smith said in a statement. "The STEM Jobs Act makes our immigration system smarter by eliminating the fraud-ridden diversity visa program and reallocating those visas to foreign graduates of American universities who could help make us more competitive in the global economy." 

Smith's bill has one Democratic co-sponsor, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas). In a statement, Cueller said the bill "ensures that America can retain those we educate and enables us to compete on a global scale with those in STEM-related industries to create more opportunity and innovation for our nation’s future.”

The tech industry has thrown its support behind the bill and unleashed a full-court lobbying press for it this week. Tech companies such as Intel and Microsoft have long argued that high-skilled immigration reform is needed to keep top talent in the U.S. rather than lose it to competitors abroad.

The Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), which counts Google, IBM and Intel as among its members, sent a key-vote letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) Wednesday saying the trade group could consider scoring votes that support final passage of the bill.

ITI was also one of several trade associations that sent letters to House members on Wednesday urging them to pass the STEM Jobs Act. The other signatories included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Telecommunications Industry Association, the Consumer Electronics Association and the Business Roundtable.

"Such a reform would allow the American economy to spur innovation and create thousands of high-paying manufacturing and research jobs here in America," the trade groups argued in the letter.

-- This story was updated at 6:36 p.m. with a comment from Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas)