In remarks at a Capitol Hill policy event hosted by the Internet Association, New York's Chuck Schumer said that there is "broad bipartisan support" for provisions to expand the number of H-1B visas available to allow workers trained at U.S. universities in the STEM subjects--science, technology, engineering and math--to remain in the country and work.
"The greatest minds in the world want to come here and then we send them home. How silly," Schumer says.
But Schumer stresses that the Senate will not move on any piecemeal bill that would address highly skilled workers alone without tackling the broader and far more controversial issue of creating a framework that could legitimize the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants currently residing in the country and incorporate policies for the so-called future flow of immigrants.
"The time is right for immigration reform," he says, "but the problem is at the lower end."
Schumer, McCain Team on Imigration Blueprint
Schumer has been working with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to develop a blueprint for comprehensive immigration reform legislation, which he says he hopes to introduce in short order.
"I'm optimistic that we will have a proposal finished by the end of March," he says.
At that point, the bill would head to the Judiciary Committee, whose chairman, Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, earlier this year affirmed his commitment to advance comprehensive immigration reform legislation to the Senate floor this session.
Schumer says he is hopeful that the committee can mark up and move a bill on to the full Senate by late spring or early summer. He also emphasizes the importance of garnering significant bipartisan support for the final product, envisioning a floor vote that would be sufficiently lopsided to force the House to pass its own immigration-reform legislation, with the two chambers then reconciling their respective versions in a conference committee.
"I think if we pass a bill in the Senate with a nice bipartisan group--not 55 Democrats and five Republicans, but rather 50 Democrats and 20 Republicans--the pressure on the House will be so large that they will have to [pass] a bill. It won't be a bill the same as ours, but then we'll have a conference," Schumer says.
H-1B Exemption for STEM Workers
But there is no path forward and out of the Senate for that type of narrow measure, Schumer said on Tuesday, urging representatives of tech companies to focus their advocacy on achieving a workable compromise on the thornier matters of the immigration debate that will need to be addressed for the passage of a broader reform bill. Schumer, the chairman of the Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Center, assured the audience that the majority party in the upper chamber will accept a comprehensive bill or no bill at all.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.