New York: The prospects for US immigration reform looked up on Monday with a bipartisan group of senators unveiling a plan. The high-skilled portion of their plan promises to grant a green card to anyone who completes a postgraduate degree in science, math, or engineering from an American university.
The senators' proposals will form the basis of a bill which will be introduced to the Senate by March, gain approval of the chamber by late spring or summer and then spend the autumn in the House of Representatives before being sent for the president's signature by the end of the year.
It could be a windfall for Indian students who typically come to the US in large numbers to study in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
“The United States must do a better job of attracting and keeping the world’s best and brightest,” the Senate framework says. “It makes no sense to educate the world’s future innovators and entrepreneurs only to ultimately force them to leave our country at the moment they are most able to contribute to our economy.”
The idea of supplementing America’s scientific talent pool with some of the brightest scientists and programmers from places like China, India, and Brazil holds obvious appeal for Congress. Green cards for STEM graduates and a streamlined process for their families had already been agreed upon in last year’s STEM Jobs Act which cleared the Republican-controlled House. There is now likely to be bipartisan support for the high-skilled portion of the Senate plan which promises to:
- Award a green card to immigrants who have received a PhD or Master’s degree in science, technology, engineering, or math from an American university.
- Reduce backlogs in the family and employment visa categories so that future immigrants view the future legal immigration system as the exclusive means for entry into the United States.
The idea of pinning green cards to the degree certificates earned by science and engineering graduates has garnered the support of Silicon Valley and corporate America.
“For a well-to-do engineering graduate in, say, Chile, spending fifty thousand dollars on a one-year master’s at Arizona State, or somewhere similar, in exchange for a relatively easy green card could be an irresistible option,” observed The New Yorker drily.
The senators promoted their proposal a day before President Barack Obama presents his own blueprint. Obama's plan will play second fiddle to the initiative from the eight US senators and his own vision is expected to be similar to that of the senators.
Pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants
Obama travels to Nevada on Tuesday to lay out his package of proposals that would extend citizenship to many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US, most of whom are Latinos, while tightening border security.
Some conservative Republicans, and many of their constituents, favour rounding up these same people and deporting them. Republican Mitt Romney’s suggestion was to make things so tough for them that they would choose to “self-deport.”
But the drubbing that Romney received in the November presidential election, in which 71 percent of Latinos swung behind Obama in evident protest at the anti-immigrant tone adopted by the Republicans, has given many prominent conservatives pause.
Behind this fragile consensus is a year-long effort by Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, to move the Republicans beyond its suicidal embrace of immigrant self-deportation. Democrats of course are beholden to Latino voters and Republicans are now terrified by an electoral future without them.
That's not to say the Senate plan makes the path to citizenship easy. An undocumented immigrant would have to register with the US authorities and pass stringent tests, including a background check to weed out anyone with a criminal record and payment of fines and back taxes, to be awarded a right to work in the US on a probationary basis.
Then they would be allowed to apply for citizenship. But in doing so they would have to go to the back of the line, learn English and basic American history, and could have to wait for years before earning a green card.
"I think everyone here agrees that it is not beneficial for our country to have these people here hidden in the shadows. Let's create a system to bring them forward, allow them to settle their debt to society and fulfil the necessary requirements to become law-abiding citizens of this country," Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona told a news conference.
The combination of the senators' initiative and Obama's White House push promises to be the most significant attempt at meaningful immigration reform since 2007, when President Bush's effort collapsed in the Senate.