Senate immigration 'framework' calls for STEM green cards

Framework unveiled by eight Senators today is called a starting point for comprehensive immigration bill

The group of U.S. Senators who are leading an effort to develop a bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill want it to include a so-called STEM visa.

The bipartisan group of eight senators Monday released the framework for an immigration bill that would make immigrants with a Ph.D. or master's degree in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM) from a U.S. university eligible for a green card.

The Senators described the framework as a starting point for development of a comprehensive immigration reform bill. In it, the four Republicans and four Democrats on this committee outline points of agreement -- the framework is very light on details.

The framework doesn't mention the H-1B program specifically, but says employers should be able to hire immigrants "if it can be demonstrated that they were unsuccessful in recruiting an American to fill an open position and the hiring of an immigrant will not displace American workers."

Leading the effort is Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who heads the Senate's immigration subcommittee. The others involved in developing the framework are Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Robert Menendez (D- N.J.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Michael Bennet (D-Col.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).

It is expected to take months to ready a final bill.

Despite a lack of specifics, there is much more to the framework than is evident.

Rubio is part of a smaller group that had earlier prepared a tech related immigration bill that includes much of what the IT industry wants. The Immigration Innovation Act of 2013 would immediately raise the H-1B cap from 65,000 to 115,000 and then allow the cap to further increase to as high as 300,000 based on demand.

Current law adds 20,000 available H-1B visas for foreigners that have earned an advanced degree from a U.S. university.

Rubio and Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Chris Coons (D-Del.) developed the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013.

It's unclear when the bill will be formally introduced. It may just be used as a point of negotiation for the broader bill outlined today by Schumer and his group.

The idea that foreign STEM graduates from U.S. schools should get green cards has been widely pitched in multiple bills in both Houses.

The requirement that U.S. workers should be recruited first applies to employment based green cards, but not H-1B visas.

But the recruitment provision is easily sidestepped by employers, at least according to one uproar-causing videotaped 2007 seminar that provided tips to on how hire green card candidates without too much worry.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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