The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee this past month approved on a 13-to-5 vote broad legislation that would completely redefine the country’s policies on immigration.  This appears to be the most significant immigration policy revision in decades to be sent to the full Senate  Debate is anticipated to start in this month.

The Judiciary Committee agreed on one of the final hold-ups to the legislation, which was to wait on an amendment that added protections for same-sex couples. Senator Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) struck a deal with the eight senators who drafted the original bill. Hatch was concerned about visas for skilled foreign workers who could fill jobs in the high-tech industry. Hatch said that he would support the bill out of the committee, but held off on committing to supporting the bill on the Senate floor. “I’m going to vote this bill out of committee because I’ve committed to do that,” Senator Hatch said.

Also voting in favor of the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee were Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

The committee spent more than five days considering 301 amendments, including one late proposal from Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the Judiciary Committee Chair, who said that he would not offer an amendment to permit United States citizens to apply for permanent resident status on behalf of their same-sex partners. According to immigration and gay rights advocates which was reported in The New York Times, Leahy was under pressure from the Obama Administration to not offer the amendment. Although the President Obama and Democrats would support protections for same-sex couples in the immigration bill, Republican members of the Judciary Committee threatened to abandon the legislation if such an amendment were to be adopted.

Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), one of the authors of the legislation, said that not including the provision was “rank discrimination.” However, he concluded that, “As much as it pains me, I cannot support this amendment if it will bring down the bill.”

Senator’s Hatch’s amendment is a compromise reached after lengthy negotiations led by Senator Schumer. It increases the minimum number of visas annually for high-skilled foreign workers (H-1B visas) to 115,000, as opposed to 10,000 in the bill. The maximum would continue to be 180,000 a year.  The New York Times also pointed out that Senator Hatch’s aides remarked that his amendment contained a trigger dependent on the conditions of the labor market. This mechanism was intended to ensure that U.S.-based companies would be able to bring in qualified foreign workers when jobs were not filled by Americans, but also decreases the number of visas when they do take them. The provision would also make it simpler for companies to hire foreign workers, as it reduces the requirement that they demonstrate that they first tried to hire a qualified American worker. 

Hatch’s amendment also clarifies the distinctions between companies in which the majority of engineers and computer technicians are Americans, and companies in which those workers are primarily foreign. This amendment also creates significant restrictions that would apply to the companies with a foreign labor force, such as Indian outsourcing companies, which would increase the incentives to hire more Americans.

After passage, President Obama said that the legislation is “largely consistent with the principles of common-sense reform I have proposed and meets the challenge of fixing our broken immigration system.” He asked the Senate to improve it further on the Senate floor.

The attorneys in the International Practice Group of BoltNagi PC have worked with many immigration issues, and as one of the largest firms in the United States Virgin Islands, has the experience and resources to assist your company. Attorney Laura Nagi handles all areas of immigration law, with an emphasis on business and family immigration and visa law. Please contact her or Ashley D. Dworsky in the BoltNagi PC International Practice Group today.