Immigration Overhaul Update: Amendment Debate

On the week of May 7, 2013, the Senate debated 32 proposed changes to the immigration bill related to border security. Of the 32 proposals, 21 were adopted. On the week of May 13, 2013, the senate began discussions on foreign student amendments. As discussions continue, Senator Patrick Leahy (D- Vermont), a long outspoken proponent of EB-5 investment immigration, reported he hopes to complete the amendment process by the end of May, potentially sending the full bill to Senate in June.

House Republican leaders are in the process of deciding whether to consider a comprehensive immigration bill or break the bill into pieces, a move Democrats and the White House are opposed to.

Obama was quoted at a fundraiser in New York Monday, May 13, stating, “I am absolutely confident that if we stay with it, we are going to be able to get immigration reform done this year.”

Furthermore, the new immigration bill includes provisions to add hundreds of thousands of new visas for low-skilled and high-tech workers. Senators on both sides of the aisle have filed amendments to either expand or contract the visa levels proposed in the bill.

Any of these proposed changes could upset a pair of fragile agreements hashed out by the Gang of 8 senators. For example, the bill aims to create a new section of visas, an endeavor undertaken through negotiations with the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor union. Under the new W visa program, up to 200,000 temporary workers in jobs such as waiters and janitors will be added to the list of annual allotments.

The program would begin in 2015 with 20,000 visas and expand to 75,000 by 2019. Afterwards, the number would be based on annual recommendations made by the federal bureau. The number of visas would rise if unemployment is low and contract when it spikes, according to the bill, and foreign workers would be paid salaries equivalent to those of American workers.

On the high-tech side of American industry, up to 180,000 visas would be made available to foreign engineers and programmers. Tech companies would be able to hire up to 15 percent of their workforces under the tweaked H-1B program. The bill states that if companies hired above that percentage, they would have to pay the additional workers higher salaries, as well as financial penalties to the government.

Many tech industry leaders have petitioned senators and policymakers to increase the number of allowances and Senator Orrin G Hatch (R-Utah) has filed several amendments to increase the number of high-tech visas.