Senators passed the 1,200-page bill, drafted by four Democrats and four Republicans known as the “Gang of Eight”, with a 68-32 majority, with 14 of the Senate’s 46 Republicans joining the 52 Democrats in supporting the reforms.
If the proposals become law, 65,000 children of undocumented immigrants who graduate from US high schools each year would be eligible for a speedier path to citizenship, meaning they would potentially be able to receive cheaper “in-state” tuition at public higher education institutions.
The bill would also make foreigners who earned PhDs at US colleges eligible for permanent residency and, following a Senate amendment, ensure that universities remain exempt from a national cap on visas that allow institutions to temporarily employ researchers who are not US citizens.
However, the bill will still have to be approved in the House of Representatives, where it will face opposition from some Republicans who feel it offers a path to citizenship that rewards those who entered the US illegally.
Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, said the vote was a “major milestone” in the effort to “comprehensively fix a broken immigration system”.
He said that higher education in the US would benefit greatly from the provisions, which if passed will allow “a new generation of immigrants, international students, and professors to fill classrooms and laboratories”.
“The bill constrains student visa fees, limits the bureaucratic hurdles universities face in obtaining work visas for international professors, and generally enhances opportunities to bring the best and brightest students and educators from around the world to US universities,” he said.
“For far too long, our immigration laws have been economically self-defeating by forcing international students to leave the country after they graduate due to a limit on visas. Those antiquated policies are a detriment to our nation’s ability to retain the most innovative minds…who want to stay here and contribute their expertise to our economy on the path to the American dream.”
President Barack Obama said that yesterday’s Senate vote was “a critical step closer to fixing our broken immigration system once and for all”.