US immigration reform moves a step closer to being passed in Senate

Sweeping changes to US immigration laws will include 10,500 visas a year for Irish workers

Supporters of immigration reform cheer after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, on Capitol Hill. Photograph: Drew Angerer/The New York Times

Supporters of immigration reform cheer after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, on Capitol Hill. Photograph: Drew Angerer/The New York Times

Thu, May 23, 2013, 01:00


The most sweeping changes to US immigration laws in more than a quarter of a century, including 10,500 visas a year for Irish workers, have moved closer to being passed after being voted through by a key Senate committee.

A bipartisan 13-to-5 vote by Democrats and Republicans on the Senate judiciary committee on Tuesday evening pushes the legislation on to the floor of the Senate for further consideration after a contentious amendment to include protections for same-sex couples was left out of the Bill.

Gay rights groups reacted angrily to the decision by Senate Democrats to drop the provisions. The legislation drafted by a cross-party group of eight senators passed the committee stage following an 11th-hour agreement with Orrin Hatch, a Republican senator from Utah, to increase the number of high-skilled visas made available in the high-tech sector.

The Senate committee agreed, in face of strong opposition from trade unions, to pass Mr Hatch’s amendment that would allow US companies to recruit highly skilled foreign workers up to an eventual cap of 180,000 a year. The Bill originally would have just doubled the number of visas to 110,000.

The amendment could be beneficial to Irish staff working for big American multinationals in Ireland looking to relocate to the US to work legally under H-1B visas.

Mr Hatch’s change was added on condition that US companies can only hire qualified foreign workers when the jobs cannot be filled by Americans and the number of visas is reduced when they are. Employers would be able to hire foreign workers more easily because the amendment reduces the burden of proof to show they tried to hire an American first.

Senators Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, and Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, raised concerns about Hatch’s amendment, which Facebook chief Mark Zuckerburg was reported to have lobbied the senator directly for.