December 4, 2012

The Dec. 1 editorial “Green-card pragmatism” expressed support for additional green cards for immigrants earning STEM graduate degrees in the United States but criticized legislation that passed the House last week because it provided those additional visas through repeal of the diversity visa lottery program. That program allocates visas among applicants from countries less represented in the legal immigrant population.

Certainly, one can have a legitimate debate about the merits of this program, but that debate needs to be held against the broader background of the fact that our immigration system already provides strikingly few employment-based visas, whether as measured in absolute numbers or relative percentages.

Last year, we welcomed slightly more than 1 million new green-card holders to our country. Of these, only 59,808 were selected through their qualifications to work and participate in the U.S. economy.

Seen in this context, the House bill made a relatively small change in these allocations to free up 50,000 additional visas for STEM graduates. It addresses a need policymakers agree will help U.S. competitiveness while maintaining our immigration system’s appropriate respect for family unity and welcome of hardworking immigrants.

Randel K. Johnson, Washington

The writer is senior vice president for labor, immigration and employee benefits at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.