There are several business immigration legislative initiatives that were proposed in Congress in late 2011. Whether some of these will be signed into law is an open question.
The US Senate presently is the tougher of the two chambers of the US Congress. The Senate is split half: there are 51 Democrats and 47 Republicans (and two Independents, who tend to vote with the Democrats). Because of the Senate’s procedural machinations, any single Senator can delay any bill by placing a “hold” on a bill.
The US House of Representatives is overwhelmingly Republican, 242-192. This allows bills to move much quicker through the House, provided that the Republican leadership is in favor of the bill.
For several years gridlock in the “do-nothing” Congresses has forestalled any meaningful immigration legislation. There are three bills that had action taking on them in December. While the odds are against these bills passing are long, they represent the best chance of positive immigration legislation in the first quarter of 2012. They also represent the best chance for positive immigration legislation in several years.
HR 3012 – The Fairness For High-Skilled Immigrants Act. This bill seeks to eliminate the individual per-country numerical quotas that exist in the allocation of employment-based green cards. The per-country restrictions would be eliminated over three years. The House passed the bill in November. The Senate seemed poised to pass the bill, until Sen. Grassley (R-IA) placed a hold on the bill in December. Sen. Grassley seeks to include several other amendments to the bill, all of which seem aimed at creating a more restrictive business immigration environment. Sen. Grassley’s history suggests that the chances of this bill passing are low unless he can be appeased.
S. 2005 - Irish Recognition and Encouragement Act of 2011. The IRE Act authorizes the Secretary of State to issue up to 10,500 E-3 visas per year to Irish nationals. In the last few years several “trade” visa programs have exempted special classes of nonimmigrants from the usual visa quotas and process. Since the middle part of the last decade, trade visa programs have been carved out for nationals of Chile, Singapore, and Australia. The IRE Act is being pushed by Sen. Brown (R-MA). Massachusetts traditionally is a strong-hold for pro-Irish immigration measures. Sen. Brown’s predecessor, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), had long championed Irish visa programs. With Sen. Brown facing a tough campaign, he may use this bill to curry favor with his deep cadre of pro-Irish constituents.
S. 1986 - STEM Visa Act of 2011 (S. 1986). This bill was introduced just before Congress began its latest holiday. A version of the STEM Act repeatedly has been introduced in several prior Congresses. While the STEM Act would be good for America and great for American business, the STEM Act has failed to gain traction in the past and is not expected to do so in this Congress.