Immigration Measure for STEM Workers Adrift After Defense Flop

  • Bipartisan proposal blocked from advancing in defense bill
  • Other measure addressing ‘documented Dreamers’ to get vote

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Supporters of streamlining green cards for immigrants with advanced degrees face limited options after their proposal faltered in defense negotiations on Capitol Hill this week.

“It’s not looking good to me,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who sponsored the measure, said Wednesday after an effort to attach it to an annual defense package came up short.

The House Rules Committee on Tuesday deemed the proposal “out of order” as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 7900). Many advocates say the measure — which would apply to immigrants with doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math — is critical to national security.

A few other immigration-related amendments will advance to the House floor. One is a measure protecting “documented Dreamers” — to ensure dependents of foreign workers or green card applicants don’t age out of legal status. A proposal for the US to admit essential scientists and technical experts working on national security will also get a vote.

Photographer: Jose Luis Magana/AFP via Getty Images
Immigration rights supporters rally on the National Mall demanding citizenship for essential workers during a demonstration marking Mayday on May 1, 2021.

The Rules Committee reviewed more than a thousand proposed amendments to the annual must-pass legislation to determine which ones could advance to the House floor.

Many advocates viewed the defense policy bill as the best hope for moving ahead with the STEM immigration measure as other windows appear to close. The House included a similar measure in a sweeping competition bill (H.R. 4521), but lawmakers have struggled to secure its place in a final package, and overall negotiations on the legislation have stalled.

STEM Immigration Pathway Gets Fresh Life in Defense Proposal

Lofgren said she would push to attach a STEM immigration measure to “anything that’s possible,” but said she didn’t know what options remain.

“We hope members across the aisle will work to pass this or an appropriately modified provision in a timely manner to help address the challenges faced by our national security critical industries,” Dan Correa, CEO of the Federation of American Scientists, said in a statement to Bloomberg Government.

Documented Dreamers

Rep. James Langevin (D-R.I.), a cosponsor of the STEM immigration amendment, said the measure would have bolstered national security and he was disappointed it didn’t advance. He said he would redouble his efforts to pass the narrower amendment to admit essential scientists and experts, which he sponsored.

“I am more determined than ever to ensure that my amendment to provide pathways to citizenship for the best foreign talent seeking to work in the US National Security Innovation Base — which has already passed the House twice — will once again pass the House and get signed into law,” Langevin said in a statement.

Another key immigration NDAA amendment set for a floor vote is the documented Dreamers proposal from Rep. Deborah Ross (D-N.C.). Ross noted more than 200,000 of these young people face the risk of deportation if they stay in the US when they lose their legal status as dependents.

“Why would you educate more than 200,000 young people, have them be so bright and full of promise, have them want to stay in this country, and then deport them so that they could take their skills and their knowledge somewhere else?” Ross said in an interview.

The amendment has bipartisan support in the House, and Ross said multiple Republican senators have indicated openness to backing it.

“The key is to get that good vote here on the House side, show that it is not just a partisan issue and that it’s good for our country,” Ross said.

Other Options for STEM

Some advocates remain hopeful STEM immigration changes will eventually get traction. Remco Zwetsloot, a trustee fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, pointed to recent comments Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) made to FYI, a news outlet from the American Institute of Physics.

Grassley told the outlet he was open to streamlined visas for STEM graduates, but only through comprehensive immigration legislation. Grassley has rebuffed his colleagues’ efforts to include STEM immigration changes in the competition package.

National security professionals have argued the measure is needed for the US to recruit and retain specialized workers in defense, aerospace, and other industries.

Science, Technology Immigration Measure Gets Eleventh-Hour Plea

Pro-immigration groups are eyeing the end of this year, after the midterm elections, as a potential window for action on a variety of legislative proposals, said Cris Ramón, an independent immigration policy consultant.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at; Anna Yukhananov at

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