On Thursday, September 20, 2012, the House failed to pass a bill that would allocate 55,000 green cards per year to those students who graduated from U.S. universities with a Master’s or Doctorate Degree in science, technology, engineering or math (concentrations commonly referred to as STEM occupations). International graduates of U.S. universities in STEM fields have long been sought after by top U.S. employers who find it difficult to fill positions requiring highly technical training. Many employers, as well as numerous technology and business groups, support a path for STEM graduates to maintain lawful immigration status and continue contributing to the U.S. economy.

The rejected bill, Rep. Lamar Smith’s (R-TX) STEM Jobs Act of 2012 (H.R. 6429), would have ended the Diversity Visa Program and taken the 55,000 visas from that program and shifted them to STEM graduates (giving priority to students earning Doctorate degrees). Some opponents of H.R. 6429 argued that it would end an important program allowing immigrants from countries not currently represented in high numbers the opportunity to come to the United States.

The Diversity Visa Program grants green cards to worldwide applicants via lottery. The program targets countries with historically low immigration rates to the United States. For some applicants it is their only option of lawful immigration to the United States. Some members of Congress have cited the Diversity Visa Program as a good foreign diplomacy program and contend that to end it would harm some U.S.-foreign relations.

Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), who opposed Rep. Smith’s bill, authored an alternative bill that also allocated 55,000 green cards per year for STEM graduates. The major difference in Rep. Lofgren’s bill was, rather than ending the Diversity Visa Program, it simply added 55,000 green cards for STEM graduates.

With an ailing economy, some groups oppose any effort to increase immigration sponsorship for international students. These critics cite many U.S. college students graduating unemployed or underemployed, as well as many professionals in STEM careers who are currently looking for employment.

The bills offered by Reps. Smith and Lofgren—as well as yet another bill, sponsored by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY)—generated a great deal of communication across the aisle. Both Democrats and Republicans have shown an interest in a program to benefit STEM graduates, but the mechanics of such a program have not been worked out yet. Many are hopeful a STEM bill will pass in November, following the presidential election.