She said the number of green cards issued under the Republican bill would actually decline because there are only about 30,000 foreign graduates every year who would qualify under the bill and the legislation does not allow unused visas to roll over to other programs.
The House voted on a similar STEM Act in September, but it fell short under a procedure requiring a two-thirds majority. It was revived under rules needing only a simple majority. Republicans also tried to attract votes by adding a provision that makes it easier for people with green cards to bring their spouses and children to this country. But this popular concept also ran into Democratic criticism because it stipulates that spouses waiting for their own green cards to be approved cannot work and family members in the country illegally are ineligible.
The STEM Act visas would be in addition to about 140,000 employment-based visas for those ranging from lower-skilled workers to college graduates and people in the arts, education and athletics.
The Diversity Visa Lottery Program, created partly to increase visas for Ireland, has shifted over the years to focus on former Soviet states and now Africa. In 2010, almost 25,000 visas went to Africa; 9,000 to Asia and 16,000 to Europe. Applicants must have at least a high school education.
Critics say the visa lottery program has outlived its purpose because Africans and East Europeans are already benefiting from family unification and skilled employment visas, and the lottery program is subject to fraud and infiltration by terrorists. Lofgren said it was "preposterous" that terrorists would try to get into a country under a program that picks 55,000 people at random out of more than 14 million applicants.
The provision on reuniting families allows the spouses and children of permanent residents to come to the United States to wait for their own green card applications to be processed one year after applying. Currently, family members must wait more than two years before being reunited.
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