US bipartisan bill eyes immigration overhaul

Published 26/05/2023

A bipartisan bill containing “critical” reforms for international and undocumented students in the US has been praised by a leading stakeholder.

Democratic representative Veronica Escobar and Republican representative María Elvira Salazar introduced the Dignity Act of 2023 bill in Congress on May 23.

The bill is comprehensive in its efforts to modernise immigration law and “enable undocumented students, DACA recipients, and TPS holders, to flourish as full participants and contributors to communities and our nation”.

“I have seen the toll our broken immigration system has on federal personnel, local representatives, nonprofits, and the migrants themselves, and the need for a realistic, common-sense compromise could not be more urgent,” said Escobar.

For international students, the guest visa reform that’s included in the bill would result in a change to allow for dual intent – making it easier for international students to stay in the US after graduation.

“The legislation also modernises immigration law for international students by surging resources for visa services… and improving the green card system for applicants and their families,” Miriam Feldblum, executive director of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration said.

“[It] fixes outdated immigration provisions that limited the ability of our higher education institutions and businesses to support international students through pathways to stay and work in this country,” she continued.

The sector has long called for the removal of dual intent to allow prospective students to “communicate an interest” in staying in the US after completing their degrees during their consular screening of when entering the country.

The new bill also looks to eliminate the crippling immigration visa backlog, which has also plagued the processing times for F-1 visas in the last two years.

A similar bill, which looked to introduce dual intent for international students as part of its reforms, was introduced by Democratic representatives, senator Bob Menendez and congresswoman Linda Sanchez.

However, due to the lack of bipartisan support from the bill, it died on the house floor after the 117th Congress ended in January 2023.

[It] fixes outdated immigration provisions that limited the ability of our HEIs”

The new bill is supported by both a Republican and Democrat congresswomen – also both Latina – and as such, may have a fighting chance in the new session.

It comes after numerous calls for more stringent immigration in the US from conservatives – on May 11, House Republicans passed a bill that would effectively enact a “ban on asylum” – but it is not expected to be picked up in the Senate.

Despite failure on 2021’s immigration act, Salazar called the Dignity Act “new and improved”.

However, parts of the bill that don’t include international student reforms are not supported by the Presidents’ Alliance, Feldblum stressed, and questions “remain about the legislative path forward”.

“[However], the legislative package unveiled [May 23] represents a serious and substantive effort at forging a long overdue compromise and displays a commitment to reform worth applauding,” Feldblum added.

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