What we’re watching in 2014: Immigration reform

Immigration is an issue that affects many segments of the population, including science, technology, engineering, and mathematics professionals. Due to the complexity of immigration, agreeing on a bipartisan comprehensive bill is proving to be difficult.

In the U.S. Senate, Democrats and Republicans were able to work together to pass a bill, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, that covers a pathway to citizenship, increased border security and new visa allocations, among many other provisions. So how does this bill relate to individuals in STEM fields? The number of visas for foreign-born STEM individuals seeking a higher-level degree would be increased and the prospect of remaining in the U.S. to work after completing a Ph.D. would be more feasible.  The ASBMB supports this bill and will continue to advocate on behalf of foreign-born STEM professionals seeking to remain in the U.S. to advance their professional career.

The U.S. House’s position on immigration reform is not as cut and dried. While some members do support similar measures as the Senate, the House as a whole has not agreed upon any legislation. Instead, several bills have been introduced, including one under the same name as the Senate bill that echoes the same sentiment. The good news is that each of these bills is positive in regards to STEM individuals, increasing the number of foreign-born STEM graduates to continue to work in the U.S. The other bills introduced in the House include: the STEM Visa Act of 2013, the Startup Act 3.0, the SKILLS Visa Act and the STAPLE Act, which focuses solely on foreign-born Ph.D.s trained in the U.S.

So where does immigration reform stand for 2014? Will the House pass a bill this year? That remains to be seen. There was a big push for reform at the end of 2013 but other issues, such as the Affordable Care Act and budget negotiations, usurped the time for discussing immigration reform and a bill did not pass.  Given that mid-term elections occur in November and the vote could change which party will lead the House, members may see passing immigration reform as a way to improve their standing with voters.

Most House Democrats support the Senate’s immigration reform bill and more recently, some House Republicans are also speaking out in support of the measure. If enough Republicans vote for the bill, then immigration reform is a possibility for 2014. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who introduced the Senate immigration legislation, is hopeful that House Republicans will come around, especially after both parties were able to sit down and come up with a deal for the budget. Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio and House Speaker, also seems to be showing signs that he is willing to work with his party to come closer to an agreement on immigration reform.

As this is a large issue that hits on many different avenues, it is hard to predict exactly when to watch out for large changes. However, we predict that prior to November, this will be a hot button issue. The ASBMB Policy Blotter will continue to track immigration reform and highlight efforts to pass legislation as they arise in 2014.

Stay tuned tomorrow for a post on “Big versus small science” or better yet, click the follow button to receive an alert when the piece is posted!

Important dates for immigration reform in 2014:

  • Too difficult to predict.

See what else we’re watching in 2014: