House Republicans will bid to overhaul American immigration laws in a direct response to their poor showing among Hispanics in the Presidential election.
The Boston Herald reports that Republicans are planning a vote on legislation to make it easier for those with green cards to bring immediate family to the States.
They will also bid to expand the visa system for foreign science and technology students.
The report states that Republican party leaders vowed to get serious about overhauling the ‘dysfunctional’ immigration system after their failure at the polls with the Hispanic community.
Reform is a top priority for Hispanic communities and the paper states that the Republican bid to take up what is called the STEM Jobs Act during the lame-duck session could be seen as a first step in that direction.
A vote on a STEM bill - science, technology, engineering and mathematics – failed to get the required two thirds majority in September.
More than 80 percent of Democrats voted against it because it offset the increase in visas for high-tech graduates by eliminating another visa program that is available for less-educated foreigners, many from Africa.
The report states that Republicans are changing the formula this time. They will add a provision long sought by some immigration advocates which will expand a program that allows the spouses and minor children of people with permanent residence, or green card, to wait in the United States for their own green cards to be granted.
Some 80,000 of these family-based green cards allocated every year, but there are currently about 322,000 husbands, wives and children waiting in this category.
On average people must wait more than two years to be reunited with their families while in the past the wait could be as long as six years.
The paper says the upcoming House proposal would allow family members to come to the U.S. one year after they apply for their green cards, but they wouldn’t be able to work until they actually got the card.
It will apply to the families of green card holders who marry after getting their residency permits.
Former Democratic congressman Bruce Morrison, who chaired the House immigration subcommittee and authored a 1990 immigration law, said the bill neither increases the number of green cards nor gives people green cards early.
He said: “But people get the most important benefit of being able to live legally in the United States with their spouses.”
An immigration policy lobbyist who advocates for groups such as American Families United, Morrison called the bill a stepping-stone to more comprehensive immigration reform.
He added: “That Republicans initiated it to me is a positive gesture that they want to do business on this subject.”
Megan Whittemore, spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., a key proponent of the STEM Act, said: “The bill is family friendly, helping spouses and minor children who would otherwise be separated from their families for extended periods of time.”
The Boston Herald says the bill will be taken up this time under normal procedures requiring only a majority vote and it is almost certain to pass the Republican-led House.
The bill would give 55,000 green cards a year to doctoral and masters graduates in the STEM fields and would make it easier for people trained in the United States to put their skills to work for American companies rather than non-American competitors.
The legislation would still eliminate the Diversity Visa Lottery Program which gives out a similar 55,000 green cards a year to those from countries, including many in Africa, with traditionally low rates of immigration to the U.S.
Crystal Williams, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said: “The bill is a message from Republicans that we are here and we are ready to talk about immigration reform.
“But I doubt it will make much progress in the Senate during the short lame-duck session. People are now starting to think about broader reform.
“A limited bill that doesn’t increase visas won’t get a lot of support.”