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House of Representatives To Vote on “Staple A Green Card” Bill

Republican leaders in the House of Representatives plan to hold a vote this week on a bill to create a new category of automatic green card for foreign scientists and engineers who earn doctorates in the United States, reports the National Journal. The White House and other Democrats are reportedly trying to dampen enthusiasm by arguing that the vote is premature and there has been insufficient time to examine the bill and its ramifications.

Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), for example, also intends to introduce a “staple” bill of his own, reports Computerworld. The House bill and Schumer’s are not identical, however, and Schumer’s bill is “being used as a vehicle to attack” the Rebublican’s House Bill, Computerworld adds. The Senator’s bill, for example, limits the proposed green cards to graduates of non-profit institutions, while the House bill to be voted on would permit degrees from certain for-profit institutions to be eligible.

So, before international students and scientists conclude that a favorable House vote this week may signal a change in the law in the near future, they should realize that the Republican move appears to be aimed as much at the upcoming Presidential election as at a serious possibility of actually moving “staple a green card to every diploma” legislation before the 112th Congress goes out of existence at the end of the year. The “vote gives Republicans the chance to support a fairly non-controversial piece of immigration legislation on an issue where Democrats have tried to claim the high ground,” the National Journal states. The Republicans are generally regarded as being at a disadvantage on the immigration issue, especially with the electorally important Hispanic population.

For the House bill to become law, it would of course also have to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate. With the Presidential election only weeks away, there is no indication that the Democrats have any intention of bringing up for a vote a Republican-sponsored bill that could appear to dilute the Democratic advantage on immigration. And time is very short.  Both houses of Congress will recess by early October for full-time campaigning and will not come back into session until after the November election.  

Then, truly major and pressing issues will await the lawmakers when they reconvene for the short post-election “lame duck” session: the expiration of former President George W. Bush’s tax cuts at year’s end and the looming major cuts in spending scheduled to take effect in January (two possibilities together known as the “fiscal cliff”), plus defense spending, wiretapping, and more. So chances are small that the “staple” bill would get onto the Senate docket in the crowded and contentious time before the 112th Congress adjourns for good.  

Bills lapse if they are passed by only one house when a Congress adjourns for the last time and they will have to start legislative process all over again in the newly elected 113th Congress that convenes in January. Of course, there’s never any guarantee of what Congress will do, and unexpected things can happen. But as of now, the coming vote appears to be more an election-year maneuver than a real harbinger of policy change in the near future.