Sept. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Congress at last appears poised to increase the number of green cards the U.S. allots to foreign graduates with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or math. Unless partisanship kills the effort.

The House is scheduled to vote Sept. 20 on Republican Representative Lamar Smith’s legislation to provide up to 55,000 green cards annually for foreign STEM students. To be eligible, students must receive a doctorate at a U.S. institution and agree to work for at least five years for a U.S. employer in a designated field. Candidates with U.S. master’s degrees in science and technology will be eligible for the green cards once the pool of Ph.D. candidates has been exhausted.

The bill fills a vital need. The U.S. educates thousands of foreign students who go on to work -- and start businesses -- in other countries. A recent study by the American Enterprise Institute and the Partnership for a New American Economy found that high-skills immigrants not only contribute to U.S. productivity, but also generate jobs here. A foreign-born worker with an advanced degree from a U.S. university creates, on average, 2.62 American jobs.

Democratic Representative Zoe Lofgren has introduced a rival bill that also increases green cards for foreigners with advanced degrees in STEM fields. The main difference between the bills is that Smith’s would end the diversity lottery for green cards, probably resulting in a small net reduction in immigration. Lofgren’s bill would retain the diversity lottery, which makes green cards available to people from nations with low rates of immigration. Her bill would also make graduates of for-profit schools ineligible for the STEM visas.

These bills appear remarkably close in spirit and aspiration. Except, apparently, in Washington, where their origins in separate partisan camps may be cause enough to torpedo both.

Yet an easy compromise is in sight. If Smith and Lofgren were only willing to meet halfway on reducing the diversity green cards while still expanding the STEM visas, their other differences could be resolved. That would give a boost not just to the U.S. economy and to sound immigration policy, but also to the promise of a functioning government in an era of sclerosis.

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