Even when there is a rare point of agreement in Congress, nothing gets done. There is no better example than the legislative fight Thursday over changing immigration law to provide green cards to foreign science and technology advanced degree holders who want to remain in the country. An easy and generally agreed upon legislative fix was scuttled when House Republicans made it contingent on putting new limits on other avenues of legal immigration. Republican leaders ignored calls to come to bipartisan agreement that was within reach, caring more about the political optics than solving a national problem.
There isn't much disagreement between Republicans and Democrats over whether it would serve the nation's interests to provide green cards to U.S.-educated foreigners with advanced degrees in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Studies show that these students are the future job creators. A startling finding by the nonprofit Partnership for a New American Economy indicates that immigrants are involved in more than three of four patents from the nation's leading research universities. And on average, 2.62 American jobs are created by every foreign-born worker with an advanced degree from a university in the United States.
Current immigration policy makes it relatively easy for the world's top science and technology students to come here to get an education, but after they graduate, the U.S. immigration system essentially invites them to go back home after a year or two. All of that human capital in fields that America needs to excel economically is lost to countries such as India and China because it is exceedingly difficult for these graduates to obtain a proper visa that allows them to remain permanently in the country. Meanwhile, the rest of the world urges their talented young people to return home, knowing that America's loss is their gain.
Both Republicans and Democrats have proposed legislation that would allow 50,000 or more advanced degree STEM graduates to obtain green cards every year. Democrats want to exclude advanced degrees from for-profit universities and would add the STEM visas on top of the long-standing diversity lottery, which grants 55,000 permanent visas annually to people from low-immigration countries. Republicans would supplant the lottery entirely with STEM graduates. That would essentially maintain the status quo that everyone agrees is insufficient.
Rather than find a compromise, Republicans forced a vote on their bill, which failed to obtain the needed supermajority vote, so they could campaign that Democrats stand in the way of job-creation immigration policies.
Republican leaders chose politics over governance, and the loser is the American economy.