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US Senate passes immigration reform bill

An immigration bill has been dramatically passed by the US Senate that could expand permanent visas for many foreign graduates from universities in the sciences and related fields, increase over time the number of temporary high-skilled visas based on demand, and expand opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors to go to the US.

"This important milestone on the path toward a more fair, humane and sensible immigration process.."

The bill now needs to be approved by the House, although according to some US press reports, this could be no easy feat.

Stakeholders in the international education sector celebrated the 68-32 majority verdict. Another important aspect of the bill is that – subject to significant border enforcement investment – the bill would enable 11 million undocumented immigrants to steer a course to US citizenship.

“This important milestone on the path toward a more fair, humane and sensible immigration process is the result of the hard work of hundreds of thousands of individual advocates, including international educators, who understand that this debate is about America’s shared future and who want to reclaim the values that make this nation a land of equality, opportunity and freedom,” said Fanta Aw, President and Chair of the NAFSA Board of Directors.

“We won immigration reform in the Senate, an objective that has eluded previous Congresses in this century,” added Executive Director, Marlene Johnson.

Within the bill, the path to green cards for PhD and Master STEM graduates has been facilitated and the cap on H-1B visas used to employ highly skilled workers has been raised to 110,000 from 65,00 making it easier for post study work. Depending on labour market demand, the bill also comes with a provision to extend the cap to 180,000.

A senate amendment also exempts universities from a cap on visas for international researchers

A senate amendment also exempts universities from a cap on visas for international researchers.

After months of lobbying for the immigration reform making it easier to attract talent worldwide, leaders in the technology industry also welcomed the passing vote. “If enacted, these changes will strengthen our economic security, foster innovation and enable continued job growth in the US,” said Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer.

“Equally important, the legislation makes critical investments in our workforce by strengthening STEM education in the United States, including instruction focused on computer science.”

US educators remain committed to supporting the bill through the House. “International educators expect Congress to act, and they will be communicating this expectation to their representatives in the coming days,” confirmed Johnson at NAFSA.

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