Democratic aides said that leaders now have decided against such an effort. That is in part because groups clamoring for immigration changes will not be satisfied by a partial bill, and Democrats say they would be unable to keep the measure small. "It's hard to do narrowly," said one aide to a senior Democrat. "It becomes a total Christmas tree."
Senate Democrats are owning up to the obvious political problems accompanying votes on any immigration proposal, no matter how small. A win on a relatively noncontroversial bill risks irritating advocates for broader reform. Yet an almost-certain loss on a bigger proposal would likely lead to future debates. The topic of immigration was taboo for several years after a comprehensive bill died on the Senate floor in 2007.
Still, acknowledgments from Senate leaders that immigration issues are too dicey for floor votes will dash the hopes of many in the business community who had hoped for some progress on a skilled-worker visa bill. On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of House members led by Reps. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., and Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., will unveil legislation to create a new visa for foreign students who receive graduate degrees from U.S. schools in science, technology, engineering, or math fields. A similar bill already has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., with Sens. Christopher Coons, D-Del., Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., as cosponsors.
The technology industry is pushing hard for this legislation, dubbed the Startup Act, arguing that firms on the cutting edge of innovation and job creation need access to all the skilled workers they can get.
"As a forward-looking U.S. employer that wants to keep driving innovation and growing the U.S. economy, we need better access to foreign nationals who graduate with U.S. [science and math] master's and Ph.D. degrees," said Laurie Tortorella, worldwide immigration manager at Intel. Tortorella spoke at a briefing on Monday for tech business leaders sponsored by American Council on International Personnel, before the executives headed to Capitol Hill to tell policymakers to fix the skilled-worker visa system.
At the same time, the technical professional association Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers is pushing members in their districts to support a similar bill sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, that would eliminate a current lottery for green cards to create 55,000 permanent visas for skilled engineering and math graduates.
Lobbyists smell a deal, but they aren't likely to seal it in the current Congress. Republicans may be sympathetic to the business leaders' plight, but once any legislation on immigration hits the floor, there is potential for mischief in the form of political-messaging amendments and filibustering.