Washington: A comprehensive immigration bill aimed at allowing American citizenship to over 11 million illegal immigrants, including nearly 300,000 from India, was Wednesday introduced in the US Senate, a day after receiving backing from President Barack Obama.
Introduced by a bipartisan group of eight Senators - called the Gang of Eight - the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernisation Act of 2013 ends years of long and anguishing wait for millions of undocumented workers in the US.
The bill is a ray of light to hundreds and thousands of legal immigrants from countries like India and China who have been waiting for years to get permanent residency or green card.
While it increases the chances of more Indian IT professionals to come to the "land of opportunities" as it proposes substantial increase in the much coveted H-1B work visas, and those with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) on the automatic path of green card, the proposals in the immigration bill comes as a great setback to the top Indian IT companies.
Top Indian IT companies like TCS, Wipro and Infosys would not only have to give more fee - an high as USD 10,000 more - to get a H-1B visa, but the conditions would make it difficult for them to get the H-1B work visas.
"Our immigration system is broken and it is time for a national conversation about how to fix it. We believe common-sense immigration reform is vital in order to secure America's borders, advance our economic growth, and provide fuller access to the American dream," the Gang of Eight said in a statement after introducing the bill.
"Our bipartisan proposal is a starting point, and will be strengthened by good-faith input and ideas from across the ideological spectrum. We look forward to multiple Senate hearings on this bill, an open committee process with amendments, and a full and fair debate in the Senate," the Senators said.
A day earlier, Obama requested the Senate to quickly move forward the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill, saying the legislation, once passed, will pave the way for the required changes in the immigration rules.
Congressional hearing on the bill begins Friday.
"The bill's introduction marks a first step toward achieving the strongest border security and enforcement measures in US history, modernising the legal immigration system to encourage economic growth and job creation, and ending today's de facto amnesty by dealing with the undocumented immigrant population in a tough but fair way that is directly linked to achieving several security triggers," Rubio said in a statement.
Members of the Gang of Eight are Charles Schumer, John McCain, Dick Durbin, Lindsey Graham, Robert Menendez, Marco Rubio, Michael Bennet and Jeff Flake.
Obama was briefed by Schumer and McCain on the bill.
"This bill is clearly a compromise, and no one will get everything they wanted, including me," Obama said.
"It is largely consistent with the principles that I have repeatedly laid out for comprehensive reform. This bill would continue to strengthen security at our borders and hold employers more accountable if they knowingly hire undocumented workers," he said.
In a statement, the US Chamber of Commerce said it has long called for comprehensive immigration reform that incorporates four critical components-increased border security, expansion of tempor ary worker programs and employer-sponsored green cards, some type of pathway to legalization and eventual citizenship under tight criteria, and a balanced and workable employment verification system.
This legislation meets these goals.
"We welcome this legislation as a critical step toward a final law that will work for our economy and for our society.
There is no doubt that there will be additional input and analysis through Senate hearings and amendments, and we look forward to being part of that needed process," it said.
"It is high time that Congress act to reform immigration and visa laws that are diminishing our country's competitive position in the global economy and wasting precious resources for no good reason," said Rupert Murdoch, Co-Chair of the Partnership for a New American Economy and Chairman and CEO of News Corp.
New York City Mayor Michael R Bloomberg applauded the bipartisan Gang of Eight for tackling this issue.
"We will do everything we can to help them win bipartisan majorities in both houses.
One of the best things we can do for our economy is to pass sensible immigration reform that drives innovation and creates jobs - and the sooner Congress acts, the brighter our future will be," he said.