U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar today announced that the bipartisan immigration reform bill passed the Senate by a vote of 68 to 32. The bill creates an accountable pathway to citizenship that would bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows, strengthens border security, and reforms the legal immigration system to meet the economic needs of the country and recognize the value of strong families. A recent study by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) showed that the bill would reduce the deficit by $197 billion over the next ten years and by $700 billion over the following decade.
The legislation includes Klobuchar's provisions to reform the visa system to help ensure the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs get their start in America and increase the number of doctors able to work in the United States. The bill also includes Klobuchar's amendments to boost science and technology education, protect victims of domestic violence and elder abuse, and improve visa processing to boost international tourism. Klobuchar is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which passed the bill last month with bipartisan support.
"Comprehensive immigration reform is not only critical to move our country forward but also to preserve America's remarkable heritage of immigrants and today's action in the Senate marks a historic day for America," Klobuchar said."I worked with my colleagues in the Senate Judiciary Committee to help craft a strong, bipartisan bill that bolsters our economy, secures our border, and promotes opportunities for both businesses and families, and I will continue to work to move this legislation forward and finally fix our immigration system."
A full list of Klobuchar's provisions included in the bill is below:
Ensuring the Next Generation of Innovators and Entrepreneurs Get Their Start in America
The legislation includes provisions similar to the Immigration Innovation Act, legislation Klobuchar introduced with Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) which reforms the employment-based green card and H-1B visa systems to meet the demands of the high-tech economy. The proposal expands the employment-based green card system in a similar manner as the Immigration Innovation Act by exempting spouses and children of employment-based green card holders, outstanding professors and researchers, and immigrants with extraordinary ability from the annual green card cap. The bill also increases the cap on the number of H-1B visas from 65,000 to 115,000 annually, with the ability for the cap to rise to 180,000 depending on the needs of the economy, and increases the separate pool of H-1B visas for U.S. advanced degree holders from 20,000 to 25,000. The bill also includes Klobuchar's provision to remove the requirement that foreign students prove they have no intention to stay permanently in the U.S. before they are allowed to enter the country, and establishes a 60-day transition period for H-1B visa holders to change employers, which is an important worker protection included in Klobuchar's legislation. Klobuchar also pushed for additional worker protections included in the legislation, such as a significant increase in required wages for H-1B workers, limits on the number of H-1B workers any one company can hire, increased auditing, and increased fees on companies hiring a large number of H-1B workers. Additionally, the legislation includes Klobuchar's provision to provide employment authorization to the spouses of H-1B workers and also includes her amendment to require jobs to be posted on state employment websites in addition to federal employment websites before an H-1B worker can be hired.
Increasing the Number of Doctors Able to Work in America
The bill includes Klobuchar's legislation to boost the number of doctors able to work in America. The provision would allow international doctors to remain in the U.S. longer than their visas initially allowed under the condition that they practice in underserved areas such as rural communities. Currently doctors from other countries training in America on J-1 visas are required to return to their home country after their residency has ended for two years before they can apply for another visa or green card. The Conrad 30 program allows doctors to stay in the U.S without having to return home if they agree to practice in an underserved area for three years. The "30" refers to the number of doctors per state that can participate in the program.
The provision makes the Conrad 30 program permanent, ending the Congressional requirement to extend the legislation. It also allows for the program to be expanded beyond 30 slots if certain thresholds are met, while still protecting small states. Additionally, the provision allows the spouses of doctors to work, and provides worker protections to prevent the doctors from being mistreated. The legislation also includes an amendment Klobuchar authored that would provide these doctors with six more months of status if they are rejected from one state because its cap has been filled in order to look for a position in an underserved community in another state. During that time, the doctor would be authorized to work, but only for an employer who has filed a petition for a Conrad 30 waiver for that doctor.
Boosting Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education
The legislation includes a bipartisan amendment similar to Klobuchar and Hatch's Immigration Innovation Act to fund science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in U.S. schools by increasing visa fees. Klobuchar's amendment would raise the fee on employment-based green cards by $1000 to help fund STEM education grants to states across the country. It also makes recommendations to promote gender equality and train veterans in STEM-related fields.
Protecting Victims of Domestic Violence and Elder Abuse
The bill includes two of Klobuchar's amendments to protect victims of domestic violence and elder abuse. Under current law, victims of abuse can either seek a U Visa, a visa for victims of certain crimes, from law enforcement officials, or self-petition for legal status under the Violence Against Women Act. However, U Visas can be difficult to obtain in some circumstances, and only spouses of U.S. citizens or permanent residents can self-petition for legal status. Klobuchar's first amendment allows victims who are in the U.S. with spouses who entered on temporary visas to take advantage of the self-petitioning process and gain independent legal status. Klobuchar's second amendment adds "elder abuse" as a crime for which an individual can obtain a U Visa.
Improving Visa Processing to Boost International Tourism
The legislation includes Klobuchar's amendment to require the Department of State to complete a 2-year pilot program to conduct visa interviews via secure videoconferencing for certain nonimmigrant visas. Due to the lack of access to a U.S. consulate in geographically-large countries, the in-person interview requirement remains a major hurdle for many potential visitors to the United States from demand markets. Using videoconferencing technology could minimize the burden of traveling for an in-person interview and reduce deterrents for potential tourists.