The prospects for comprehensive immigration reform appear to be have brightened considerably this week, especially since U.S. President Barack Obama flagged it during his State of the Union Address on Tuesday.

Scarcely days after Mr. Obama said in the House of Representatives, “Let’s get immigration reform done this year,” Republican leaders have kicked off a closed-door meeting at a Maryland retreat to discuss new principles on immigration policy that will undoubtedly focus on strengthening the border shared with Mexico.

At the heart of the debate, and also the sticking point that led to a stalemate in Congress last year, is the question of whether and how more than 11 million undocumented workers in the U.S. could be granted a path to ultimate citizenship conditional on their adherence to U.S. laws.

Among this group 240,000 people are said to be from India, a fact that sometimes get lost in the heated debate surrounding H1-B visa conditions.

Yet the stringent conditions imposed upon H1-B dependent employers in the U.S. has also raised deep concerns in India, the country that benefits the most from such visas, relating to jobs in the IT sector.

This may have prompted Indian Ambassador to the U.S., S. Jaishankar, to say during a talk this week that he hoped that “something much more balanced and fairer comes out of the House’s deliberations,” on the issue and this could shape the Indian perception of how open the U.S. economy is.

While the Senate “Gang of Eight” led by Democratic Senator Charles Schumer formulated a comprehensive reform package, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernisation Act of 2013, the bill failed to garner any significant support in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which appeared to prefer a piecemeal approach.

Conservative House Republicans and Speaker John Boehner in particular have vowed to block the introduction of the Senate bill into the floor of the House, objecting fundamentally to its proposal for “earned legalisation” for undocumented immigrants, that is citizenship granted after fully securing the border and requiring applicants to wait for 13 years, pay all back taxes, learn English, and ensure no criminal record.

Discretion favoured

In June 2012 the Obama administration pushed past Congressional deadlocks to announce Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) which was a memorandum directing U.S. immigration and law enforcement authorities to “practise prosecutorial discretion” towards – or generally desist from deporting – undocumented persons who arrived in the U.S. as children; however without granting them any lawful immigration status.

New tone

Although Mr. Obama did not appear to force the issue on Capitol Hill for most of 2013, preoccupied as he appeared to be by questions of surveillance reform and national economic recovery for most of the year, he set a new tone earlier this week when he argued, “If we are serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labour leaders, faith leaders, and law enforcement – and fix our broken immigration system… Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades.”

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