A Congress That Does Things? Immigration Reform Makes Huge Bipartisan Progress

The new Congress is showing signs that it may finally leave behind its old habit of doing nothing: A gang of eight senators from both parties has outlined a framework for comprehensive immigration reform. While progress could get bogged down in details as the legislation comes together, the bipartisan love fest bodes well for tech companies eager to hire more high-skilled immigrants.

Four Democrats and four Republicans, including conservative immigration reform powerhouse Marco Rubio, released a general outline for comprehensive reform. In short, the plan promises to create a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, incentivize high-skilled immigrants, protect new workers’ rights and create a “strong” employment verification system.

Political junkies may recall that, last year, high-skilled immigration took an unceremonious nosedive after Republicans and Democrats split on whether 55,000 new visas for science and math graduates should come at the cost of denying immigrants from underrepresented nations. Silicon Valley wasn’t getting more brilliant foreign minds until the immigration situation was resolved for low-skilled workers, as well.

The high-skilled portions of the new plan are uncontroversial, if generic. The plan 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 our future legal immigration system as the exclusive means for entry into the United States.”

Green cards for STEM graduates and a streamlined process for their families had already been agreed upon in last year’s ill-fated STEM Jobs Act.

There is no language, however, about developing a separate startup visa for foreign-born entrepreneurs who want to build their own company without needing the sponsorship of a company. Considering that some of America’s most successful companies were built by the children of immigrants, such as Google Co-Founder, Sergey Brin, it’s desirable to encourage the world’s brightest to venture out on their own.

Why the sudden compromise? The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein explores some compelling numbers on how conservatives lost big with minority voters last election and, unless they gain the favor of this growing demographic, it could spell permanent electoral trouble. So, there’s good reason to believe that immigration reform may happen soon.