The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, in a major step towards the enactment of a wide ranging Immigration Reform Bill, passed Senate Bill S. 744 by a vote of 13 to 5 earlier this evening.
The Bill now moves to the full Senate and a possible vote could come sometime in June, before Washington breaks for the July 4 holiday. With bi-partisan support and a strong endorsement of the Judiciary Committee, the bill now has significant momentum.
There was rigorous debate at the Judiciary Committee. The debate was impacted by American Labor Unions, led by the AFL-CIO, which put a lot of pressure to push back on efforts to ease the onerous conditions imposed on the hiring of high skilled workers through the H and L visa programs. This was countered by a coalition of the U.S. high technology companies who argued that the underlying provisions in S.744 made it virtually impossible for them to hire high skilled workers.
Senator Orrin Hatch (Republican of Utah) had a major impact on the legislation and sponsored amendments that were supported by the U.S. high tech lobby. Many of Senator Hatch’s amendments were passed through a compromise with the Democratic leadership. Democrats felt that the Senator’s support was critical for future passage of the legislation and that his vote could bring the support of additional conservative members.
Some of the amended provisions of the bill as it relates to employment visas are:
- The baseline for H visas will be 115,000 per year and that number could rise over time to a maximum of 180,000 per year. There are escalation clauses will be triggered by how many visas are filed within a particular time period and could potentially see H visa allocations increased by up to 20,000. However, if H visa filings fall short, then the number of H visa allocations for the following year may decrease by up to 20,000.
- The hiring of foreign workers on H or L Visas by “non H dependent companies” is made easier as they will only have to stipulate that they are not displacing an American worker. The original language in S.744 forbade the firing of an American employee for 90 days by a company that hired a foreign worker on an H-1B visa. This and other additional restrictions would have made employing foreign skilled workers in the United States almost impossible.
The AFL-CIO has stated that it will press it supporters in the Senate to reverse the amendments that Senator Hatch was able to make to S.744, during the full Senate deliberations. Business friendly provisions in Immigration Reform may have to wait until the House, with its Republican majority, takes up the legislation.
We will be providing periodic updates on this issue.
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