WASHINGTON, D.C. — Immigrant relief provisions in the America COMPETES Act, which passed the House in February, are now being debated in the Senate where they face a divided Republican caucus.
At issue is whether the bill will do two things:
- create a special visa category for immigrant entrepreneurs
- exempt immigrants with doctorates and master’s degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields from annual country caps on green cards.
“I think merit-based immigration is an appropriate response to what we see happening right now,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA). “Obviously, if they’ve got an advanced degree in a STEM program, that would meet some needs we have. But I’d like to look at the legislation more.”
Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) echoed Cassidy’s conditional support for STEM-based immigration, but warned the immigration provision might face challenges.
“I can see where that might have some controversy to it,” said Braun. “When it comes to anything associated with STEM, we’ve got to get better at it because we’ve got 11 million jobs out there but six million unemployed. Something’s gotta give.”
Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Todd Young (R-IN), both likely GOP conferees on the bill, agree that the provisions to help immigrants with STEM PhDs and master’s degrees would be controversial, but stopped short of saying they would be removed via the conference process.
“I think that would add controversy,” said Cornyn of the immigration provisions. “The most important thing we can do is shore up the supply chain vulnerability. Everything else, to my mind, is secondary.”
“I don’t think it’s going to be realistic to include immigration provisions in the conference negotiations,” said Young. “Not because I don’t think it’s needed —I’ve actually been leaning into this topic, indicating that we need to address it— but it shouldn’t be addressed in the context of the innovation bill.”
Asked about the immigration provisions of the COMPETES Act, Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) seemed open to keeping them in the bill.
“I don’t know what the exact proposal would be and what that would actually look like,” said Lankford. “But for me, we want to encourage the best and the brightest from all over the world to be able to come here legally and to be able to go through the legal process.”
Pablo Manríquez is the Washington correspondent for Latino Rebels. Twitter: @PabloReports