A bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives Friday would replace 55,000 randomly awarded visas each year with ones targeting graduates of American universities with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

The STEM Jobs Act passed 245-139 with 48 not voting. Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.) is a co-sponsor. Arkansas’ other congressional members, Reps. Steve Womack, Rick Crawford and Mike Ross, also voted yes.

The bill would replace the diversity visa lottery, which randomly allocates 55,000 visas to immigrants, with one that awards visas first to foreign-born doctoral graduates and then to graduates of master’s programs in STEM-related fields.

Recipients must have a job offer from a company certifying that there are no American workers qualified and available for the job. The bill would allow spouses and children to remain with the visa recipients until they obtain their green cards.

The vote was largely along party lines. Republicans voted 218-5 for the bill. Democrats voted 134-27 against it, which doesn’t bode well for its chances in the Democratic-controlled Senate. President Obama is opposed to the bill because of the elimination of the diversity visa program and other restrictions.

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In a press release from his office, Griffin was quoted saying, “Despite the fact that we have the best universities in the world, U.S. job creators are grappling with a shortfall of qualified STEM graduates. Under current law, many highly skilled, foreign-born students study in the U.S. but are forced to leave the country after graduation, allowing our nation’s global competitors to capitalize on their skills and productivity. That’s like Arkansas recruiting the best college football players from Texas, training them on our offense, and sending them back to Texas to compete against us.  That doesn’t make any sense, and that’s why I am an original cosponsor of the STEM Jobs Act. This bipartisan legislation will help us strengthen our economy, unleash innovation and create jobs here in America.”

The bipartisan Partnership for a New American Economy estimated in a May 2012 report, “Not Coming to America,” that the United States faces a shortfall of 230,000 qualified advanced-degree STEM workers by 2018.

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