The United States Senate is likely to debate permanent residentship to thousands of immigrants from countries like India and China, as the annual budget comes up for discussion Monday.
A political floor fight is expected over the budget package that has provisions to make available thousands of green cards for new permanent immigrants. The measures envisage to 'recapture' some 90,000 unused employment-based immigration visas and would exclude family members from the overall cap which is currently set at 140,000.
According to media estimates the exemption to family members from the cap means another 150,000 legal immigrants could be added annually. Currently one million persons become legal immigrants in the US annually.
The change in the deficit reducing package that will be taken up for debate is part of an overall reconciliation bill that seeks deep cuts in such areas as medicare and social spending even while allowing drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The immigration and other visa related aspects was before the Senate Judiciary Committee which had sought to take care of its share of deficit reduction; and the panel came up with the provision of selling to employers the 90,000 unused visas for $500 a piece as a fee.
In addition to this the panel also voted to raise the H1B visa cap by 30,000 which would also net additional funds.
The proposals of the Senate Judiciary Committee have been backed by government agencies like the commerce department and the private sector which has been complaining about the lack of qualified personnel.
The private sector include universities and hospitals and the US Chamber of Commerce. The problem with the Senate bill is that there are lawmakers who do not like to see immigration provisions tucked into a budget bill; and at least one House Republican, Tom Tancredo, has said that he will vote against the measure in the House of Representatives. The recommendations of the Senate Judiciary Committee must be accepted by the Senate where some law makers have already expressed the desire to see a comprehensive immigration bill that would tackle all aspects including illegal immigration.
Even if the current proposals in the budget reconciliation bill passed the full Senate the language would have to be worked out in the House-Senate Conference Committee. The House version does not raise immigration levels. The House Judiciary Committee took care of its budget cutting exerise by raising the fee for L-1 visas, the temporary worker programme, by $1,500. "We don't expect there to be any immigration provisions in the reconciliation. This is not the time or place for controversial immigration provisions", Congressman Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas was quoted as saying in The Washington Times