Senators Propose Easing Visa Restrictions for Highly Skilled Workers

Senators Propose Easing Visa Restrictions for Highly Skilled Workers

The New York Times reported that a bipartisan group of four senators proposed on Tuesday easing visa limits for highly skilled immigrants and foreign students, a move that challenges Congressional leaders on their fixed positions on the issue of immigration during an election year.

Two Democrats, Senators Mark Warner of Virginia and Chris Coons of Delaware, and two Republicans, Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Jerry Moran of Kansas, introduced the legislation, which is a break for both parties. Democrats have traditionally held highly skilled worker visas as a bargaining chip for measures on lower-skilled immigrants that are far less politically popular. Many Republicans have opposed any expansion of visas.

But the senators, appearing at a news conference on Tuesday, said the struggling economy necessitated steps that move past those positions. Mr. Rubio is trying to gather support for his version of legislation that would offer legal status to young illegal immigrants brought to the country as children, but he said he would not try to link his version of the Dream Act to the new high-skilled worker proposal. That has to pass on its own merits, he said.

Senators Coons and Warner agreed, even as they reiterated their support for comprehensive immigration legislation.

“We’ve got to grow jobs,” Mr. Warner said.

“We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Mr. Coons said.

The new legislation would create a new type of visa for as many as 50,000 foreign students graduating from American universities with master’s degrees or doctorates in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. Visa recipients would have to show they stayed in science and technology fields for five consecutive years before they could get permanent resident status. The proposal would also create 75,000 new visas for immigrant entrepreneurs in the science and technology field.

The legislation would also eliminate numerical limitations on employment-based visas that use per-country quotas. And it would make tax changes that favor start-ups, including making permanent President Obama’s 100 percent exemption on capital gains taxes for investments in small start-ups.

“It’s new businesses that create jobs,” said Robert Litan, vice president for research and policy at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, not necessarily small businesses.

The lawmakers are trying to build off the success they had with the JOBS Act, which focused on easing capital to small businesses. Joining them at the news conference was Steve Case, a co-founder of America Online and one of the JOBS Act’s biggest champions.

“This economy was built on risk-taking entrepreneurs,” Mr. Case said. “It’s important that we double down.”

For decades, immigration measures have been far more controversial than straight business bills. Democrats and immigration advocates have held back visas for highly skilled workers and temporary agriculture worker programs to martial support among business groups, reasoning that once they passed, Republican allies would have secured their priorities and any effort to get a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants would lose the few Republican allies it has.

Immigration opponents have said high-skilled visa expansions take good-paying jobs from Americans and work as a disincentive for students who should be striving for those jobs.

Those factors make the new push for four relatively new senators an uphill climb.

“As the new guys, we didn’t get the memo that in an election year, we’re supposed to take the year off,” Mr. Warner said. “Clearly, China is not taking the year off.”