US immigration reform bill clears key Senate hurdle

Washington, May 22 (IANS) A bipartisan immigration reform bill cleared a key hurdle after its authors negotiated a compromise with a Republican senator to relax some restrictions on high-tech companies on hiring foreign techies, many of whom come from India.

Members of the Democratic-controlled panel Senate Judiciary Committee approved the measure 13-5 with three Republicans joining 10 Democrats after the so-called “Gang of Eight” Tuesday worked out the compromise with Senator

Orrin G. Hatch

The measure to deal with the problem of over 11 million illegal immigrants, including some 260,000 Indians, now moves to the Senate floor for consideration.

If enacted, the plan would constitute the first overhaul of the America’s immigration policy since 1986 when President Ronald Reagan granted amnesty to nearly 3 million illegal immigrants.

The legislation already would raise the annual limit of high-tech visas, known as H-1B, coveted by Indian techies from 65,000 to as many as 180,000, but Hatch had lobbied to eliminate several other restrictions.

The compromise amendment lifts the requirement that companies first offer tech jobs to Americans for all firms except those that depend on foreigners for more than 15 percent of their workforce and relaxes the formula for determining the annual number of foreign high-tech workers.

The high-tech amendments came after over five days of hearings on dozens of proposed changes. But Hatch warned he could still drop his support in the full Senate if other concerns aren’t met. “I’ve got to get those or we’ll never pass this bill,” he said.

President Barack Obama, who has made immigration reform his top second-term priority, issued a statement praising the committee for approving a bill that is “largely consistent” with the principles he had outlined.

“None of the committee members got everything they wanted, and neither did I,” Obama said, “but in the end, we all owe it to the American people to get the best possible result

Both party leaders in the Senate also appeared supportive of the final version of 850-page bill, a positive sign for backers hoping to win a solid majority in the full chamber.

The House is working on its own version of immigration reform.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])

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