Senate Passes Immigration Reform; Long Road Remains

Late yesterday the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration proposal by a margin of 68 to 32, with 14 Republicans joining all of the Chamber’s Democrats in favor of the measure.  For the venture industry and our entrepreneurs, as well as the broader high-tech and life science communities, the bill represents a critical recognition of the linkage between high-skilled immigration and broader U.S. economic competitiveness and job creation.

NVCA worked closely with Senators Bennet (D-CO), Shaheen (D-NH), Warner (D-VA) and Udall (D-CO) to clarify portions of the newly created INVEST visa for entrepreneurs as the Senate debated the broader bill.  We’ll be reviewing the final details of the bill as passed by the Senate and will share further analysis in the coming days.  But, we’re hopeful that the combination of increased access to green cards for those graduating from U.S. universities, the INVEST visa for entrepreneurs that want to start a company, and the increased number of H-1B visas available will create a smoother pathway for entrepreneurs than has been possible.

Of course, for these reforms to come to fruition, we need more than passage of a bill by the Senate.  We must have passage of a bill in the House, and ultimately a compromise measure put before the President to sign.  And, while the Senate passage is a tremendous step forward, there’s still a long road ahead.

The House has begun consideration of a number of bills designed to address discreet portions of the immigration system, rather than tackling a comprehensive proposal.  This week the House Judiciary Committee began a mark-up of the SKILLS Visa Act introduced by Rep. Issa that deals with many of the high-skilled immigration reform concerns.  Unfortunately, if that session is any indication of the sentiment around immigration reform, the road ahead will be a very tough slog as there was a substantive amount of partisanship exhibited in the mark-up.  High-skilled immigration, while not free of controversy, generally is an area where more bipartisan agreement has been possible. If there is disagreement in this area, the chance of a contentious process is certainly high in other areas.

Also unclear at this juncture is whether the House will try to finalize its consideration of immigration reform proposals over the next few weeks – before its scheduled August recess – or whether the debate will carry over into September.  Both strategies carry political risks for Representatives who will return home in August to face their constituents.  Certainly delaying consideration of a final proposal until September will squeeze the timeline for any conference with the Senate, given the number of critical issues like funding the government for the next fiscal year, that still need to be addressed by both Chambers.

Please stay tuned for further updates.