Bill seeks to hike quota and fees for H1-B visas

Marking a step forward in fixing what has been described as a “broken immigration system”, the U.S. Senate on Thursday passed a comprehensive reform bill by a significant bipartisan margin of 68-32 votes. Fourteen Republican crossed the aisle to vote in support of the bill along with all Democratic Senators and two independents.

The bill, drafted by a “Gang of Eight” Senators from both sides of the aisle, was welcomed by President Barack Obama, who however described it as a “compromise,” and said, “By definition, nobody got everything they wanted. Not Democrats. Not Republicans. Not me. But the Senate bill is consistent with the key principles for commonsense reform that I — and many others — have repeatedly laid out.”

Opponents of the bill have warned that it may be dead on arrival at the House of Representatives, where it has to pass before entering into law. On the one hand, the introduction of a “border surge,” entailing the doubling of Border Patrol agent number from 20,000 to 40,000, and adding $46 billion to the bill’s price tag, has brought cheer to conservative constituents concerned about illegal border crossings.

However, resistance stems from Republicans in the House who have said they would instead consider a narrower legislation that may give less attention to the “path to earned citizenship” that the Senate measure proposes for the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants, focusing more on the border question.

Mr. Obama appeared cognisant of the potential looming House blockade when he said after the bill’s Senate passage, “Today, the Senate did its job. It’s now up to the House to do the same... Now is the time when opponents will try their hardest to pull this bipartisan effort apart so they can stop commonsense reform from becoming a reality.”

Visa category

Indian business leaders reacted with dismay when the initial framework of immigration reform was unveiled a few months ago by the Gang of Eight, particularly as it included measures to dramatically increase H1-B visa fees and tighten the conditions for U.S.-based companies hiring employees under this visa category.

Supporters of the bill however insisted that these reforms were not introduced to target Indian workers or outsourcing companies per se. They also pointed out that the overall quota for such visas had been increased and some of this revenue had to be channelled towards border security if a bipartisan compromise was to be forged. Further the reform, if passed, is also likely to improve the prospects of the nearly 240,000 undocumented immigrants from India.

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