House committee votes to dump diversity visas

The House Judiciary Committee last week voted to abolish the diversity visa program, the last legal path to a green card that most Irish can access.

The bill now goes to the full U.S. House of Representatives. It is not, however, currently scheduled for a vote and a spokesman for the Irish Embassy here doesn't think it has much of a chance of making it through Congress and onto President Barack Obama's desk.

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"Any standalone bill on the diversity visas would not pass through the U.S. legislative process," said the spokesman. He indicated that the embassy predicts inaction on the program as long as the White House and Capitol Hill do not address immigration reform on a comprehensive level.

Addressing the immigration issue this week, President Obama said he understands that the U.S. immigration system needs to be overhauled and that he places a premium on wooing highly skilled workers into the country.

"We have a system right now that allows the best and the brightest to come and study in America and then tells them to leave, and set up the next great company someplace else," the president said.

Also this week, the Senate judiciary subcommittee on immigration held hearings on the need for highly skilled and educated IT workers, and both members of the committee and representatives from the business community testified that the laws governing access to work visas and green cards could not wait for comprehensive immigration reform.

"Study after study is showing that even immigrants who come here with little or nothing in order to make a better life for his or her family, just as many of us or our ancestors did, is also critical to making America a more vibrant and economically successful country," said Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) who chaired the meeting.

The ranking member of the sub-committee, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) disagreed. He wants reform to be targeted towards those with a skill. He also chastised President Obama for failing to take on immigration reform.

"In July 2008, when then candidate Obama, before he was president, said if elected he would make immigration reform, comprehensive immigration reform, a top priority. Well, I think it's clear to me that he has not done so," said Cornyn.

Meanwhile, there are several advocates on both sides of the aisle, and in both chambers, who would like to see the 55,000 annual diversity visas remain, but be re-focused to draw only those with Ph.D or similar level skills.

The diversity program was originally designed with the Irish in mind by the late Senator Edward Kennedy. Senator Schumer and former Connecticut Democratic Congressman Bruce Morrison ensured applicants from Ireland and Northern Ireland continued to have the right to apply through the years, although today the largest number of recipients come from Africa.

Applicants only need a high school diploma, or two years of work experience, and a clean criminal background. The applicant's employment and family status is not taken into consideration.

A computer glitch earlier this year misinformed some 2011 applicants, and a re-drawing had to be performed.

"The evidence on the diversity visa is clear. Recipients have lower unemployment, higher wages, pay more taxes, and have higher rates of entrepreneurship than both the average citizen and other legal immigrants. While there have been problems with the implementation, we need to mend, not end, the diversity visa," a spokesman for Senator Schumer told the Echo.