After weeks of debate, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee last night voted 13 to 5 to approve landmark immigration reform legislation. The bill, which would strengthen border security and establish a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living and working in the U.S., also contained several amendments by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a member of the Judiciary Committee.
"I have heard from so many Rhode Islanders, including many of our Latino and business leaders, about the problems with our nation's immigration system," said Whitehouse. "I'm confident that this bill will bring undocumented workers out of the shadows so they can become law-abiding, tax-paying residents, and improve our immigration system so we can continue to attract the best and brightest from around the world."
In addition to the border security and citizenship provisions, the legislation increases opportunities for talented foreign-born students in the sciences to obtain green cards and establishes a new INVEST visa program, which provides visas for entrepreneurs from other nations who have been educated in American colleges and universities and have gone on to start businesses here in the U.S.
The bill also includes three amendments from Senator Whitehouse. His first amendment, which was adopted by voice vote, would help workers report H-1B program abuses by creating a toll-free hotline and website for that purpose. It would also require companies that employ H-1B workers to inform their employees of the hotline and website; and establish reporting requirements for enforcement. When introducing the amendment, Whitehouse noted that he had heard from Rhode Islanders at community dinners who had been laid off and replaced by workers from foreign countries. This would give those workers an easy way to report possible violations of the law.
Whitehouse's second amendment modifies the bill's INVEST visa program. The amendment would ensure that funding from startup accelerators, such as Betaspring in Rhode Island, can be taken into account for individuals applying for these visas. Startup accelerators, which are a growing phenomenon across the country, typically provide entrepreneurs with training, mentorship, seed money, and access to other investors, in exchange for a small amount of equity in the startup.
Yesterday the Committee approved a third amendment, which could help America's national laboratories, including Rhode Island's Navy Undersea Warfare Center, hire and retain talented foreign-born researchers. Whitehouse's amendment would expedite the naturalization process for a select number of highly skilled researchers whose work is critical to the national interest. In doing so, it would enable these individuals to obtain the clearances necessary for our national labs to take full advantage of their talents.