Goodlatte and Issa defend cutting diversity visa program

Top officials from Compete America, Consumer Electronics Association, Information Technology Industry Council and inSPIRE STEM USA voiced support for the bill at the press conference.

Goodlatte said the Judiciary Committee will hold a markup of the bill "very soon."

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The Skills Visa Act would significantly increase the annual H-1B visa cap for temporary high-skilled workers to 155,000, create a new visa for entrepreneurs that have received investor funding for their startups and eliminate the per-country cap for green cards. It would also raise the fees that employers would have to pay for green card and H-1B applications, which would go towards a fund aimed improving STEM programs (science, technology, engineering and math) in U.S. schools.

A key section of the bill would set aside 55,000 green cards a year for foreign graduates with advanced degrees in technical fields from U.S. universities. But to offset making those green cards available, the bill proposes to gut the diversity visa program that Democrats and the Congressional Black Caucus have fought to preserve.

The diversity visa program awards visas by a random selection process to immigrants from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S. The visas have typically have been granted to people from Africa and the Caribbean.

Both Goodlatte and Issa staunchly defended eliminating the diversity visa program, arguing that it's no longer in the best interest of the country.

"The visa lottery, we think, is the best example that there is of how to issue green cards on a basis that has absolutely no correlation to what is in the interest of growing the American economy or family unification, because it does neither. It's based on pure luck," Goodlatte said.

"The House has voted on a number of occasions to eliminate the visa lottery and we think it's an appropriate part of overall immigration reform," he added.

Issa said the program was "something the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) created to bring in the Irish."

"I believe we have 55,000 in a lottery of high-tech skilled people, which is moving it into a lottery of the best and the brightest and most prepared to add to the American success story," he said.

The House Judiciary Committee has been putting forward separate pieces of immigration legislation that covers each section of the debate.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of eight House members is crafting comprehensive immigration legislation based on an "agreement in principle" reached last week on the divisive areas of the immigration debate.

Goodlatte said it's too soon to say how the House will proceed with the competing pieces of legislation, but the Judiciary panel will continue its work in a piecemeal fashion.

"We are very anxious to see their work product. We do not know the details yet of what they do in this area, or in any other areas of their work," Goodlatte said. "I think a decision about how the process will move forward is premature and we need to see that work product and we need to continue to produce the additional bills that the House is working on."

In the upper chamber, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed an amended version of the Gang of Eight's immigration bill earlier this week. Key to the bill's passage was a last-minute compromise struck between Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchPhRMA CEO 'hopeful' Trump officials will back down on drug pricing move Live coverage: Trump AG pick grilled on Mueller probe at confirmation hearing Trump praises RNC chairwoman after she criticizes her uncle Mitt Romney MORE (R-Utah) and Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerProtecting our judiciary must be a priority in the 116th Congress Baldwin's Trump plays 'Deal or No Deal' with shutdown on 'Saturday Night Live' Sunday shows preview: Shutdown negotiations continue after White House immigration proposal MORE (D-N.Y.) on a package of tech-friendly amendments that Hatch had filed.

The amendments covered the H-1B section of the sweeping bill and eased the requirements employers would have to follow when hiring high-skilled workers on H-1B visas. Goodlatte lauded Hatch's amendments but said they aren't a perfect solution.

"We've very complimentary of Sen. Hatch's efforts in the Senate and we do have differences and we do have areas of common ground," the House Judiciary Chairman said.

Both lawmakers made clear they have concerns with the Senate bill and slammed the process in which it was crafted. Goodlatte said the bill "has a number of difficulties."

"I'm excited that we really have an opportunity to do something in a thoughtful way, in a way which [is] a sum of the parts ... rather than a combined bill done behind closed doors," Issa said.