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Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Sweeping Immigration Reform Bill

May 22, 2013

Capitol Dome

Includes DREAM Act, Tougher Rules on Student Visas, Enhanced H1-B Visa Policy

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-5 yesterday to approve a comprehensive, bipartisan plan to overhaul the nation's immigration system. The landmark legislation’s provisions include an expanded version of the DREAM Act, beefed up rules on student visas and an increase in the number of H1-B visas.

The bill, drafted by four Democrats and four Republicans, would be the most substantial change to immigration law since the 1986 reforms under President Reagan.

The centerpiece of the legislation is a 13-year path to citizenship for many of the 11 million people now in the country without legal status, a path that would be expedited for DREAM Act students, young people brought illegally to the United States as children. The version of the DREAM Act included in the bill removes the age cap for eligibility and repeals the current federal law that limits states' options to provide in-state tuition to undocumented students.

The committee approved an amendment authored by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) that would allow DREAM Act students to qualify for federal loans and federal work-study. ACE and 12 other higher education groups had requested the committee include such an amendment in a May 8 letter to committee leaders.

The committee also added new rules on student visas to the bill in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. One provision would require all institutions that accept foreign students to be accredited by an approved regional or national accrediting agency, an effort to shut down diploma mills. Another amendment would require customs officials to have access to the federal student-visa database—known as the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)—within 120 days of the legislation’s enactment. Both amendments were proposed by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA).

A last-minute agreement on H1-B high-skilled visas with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) negotiated by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) would triple the number of those visas available, to 180,000, more quickly than originally proposed.

The bill now moves to the Senate floor, where it faces weeks of debate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has said he will make the bill the chamber's priority in June.

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