Science Students May Get US Green Cards
By Jane Han
Korea Times Correspondent
NEW YORK - Two senators proposed an immigration overhaul last week, part of which would award green cards to highly-skilled immigrants - a ray of hope for many foreigners, including Koreans, who want to work and live in the U.S. But will the blueprint become law?
Just after the plan was unveiled last Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama expressed support, saying, "A critical next step will be to translate the framework into a legislative proposal."
The bipartisan framework, sponsored by Democratic Senator Charles Schumer and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, calls for a legal, permanent residence status for immigrants who receive a doctorate or master's degree in science, technology, engineering or math from a U.S. university.
"It makes no sense to educate the world's future inventors and entrepreneurs and then force them to leave when they are able to contribute to our economy," the Senators wrote on The Washington Post's Web site, where they first made the plan public.
"Ensuring economic prosperity requires attracting the world's best and brightest."
If Schumer and Graham's plan goes ahead as it is, a large number of Koreans studying in the U.S. are expected to take advantage of the offer. But so far, many experts are skeptical of such reforms that would give a direct path to green cards for highly-skilled immigrants.
"The idea is good," said Raymond Kim, a lawyer at Kim & Min Law Firm, a Los Angeles-based practice, "but that's about it."
"Some people welcome the thought of talented foreigners playing important roles in the fields of sciences," he said, "but there are also those who are all against it."
Groups like the Federation of American Immigration Reform and the Center for Immigration Studies oppose the reform, arguing that a flood of immigrants would further hurt the U.S. economy.
Historically, many blueprints with similar goals have failed to make it far in the long and tough legislative journey due to fierce opposition, said Kim, an experienced immigration lawyer.
"Even if it somehow passes the Senate, the chance of passing the House is slim to none," he added.
The proposal will have a better shot at becoming a bill if it is handled separately, apart from Obama's comprehensive immigration reform package, says Choi Young-soo, a New York-based immigration lawyer.
"It's tough to get anything through when you're working with such a big overhaul with so many contentious bits and pieces," he said.
Schumar and Graham's immigration plan is based on four pillars: ending illegal employment with biometric Social Security cards; ramping up border and interior enforcement; creating a process for admitting temporary workers; and implementing a tough but fair path toward legalization for people already in the U.S.
Besides dealing with the "heavy package," Choi said fairness can also be a problem.
"Why only people who studied science? What if someone studied social welfare? That's good too isn't it?" he said, adding that the reform could end up backfiring with side effects.
Foreign students, for example, may choose to study sciences just for the easy green card.
Despite the tricky details of the blueprint, some say the important thing is to get lawmakers to open the debate.
"The issue is not the proposal," said Saul Soloranzo, executive director of the Central American Resource Center, a non-profit providing help to immigrants, according to Truthout. "The issue is to get a proposal approved. Congress does not work with blueprints, they work with bills."
So when will the immigration reform get its time in Congress?
Immigrant advocates are raising their voices throughout the country, but the freshly-passed healthcare reform bill is expected to hold back immigration talks.
"The first casualty of the Democratic health care bill will be immigration reform," Graham said in a statement.
He said health care will "pretty much kill any chance of immigration reform passing the Senate this year" since the White House's working relationship with the Republicans is too harmed to move on to another sticky issue.