Rubio, other freshmen push bill easing visas for highly skilled immigrants

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has joined three other freshman senators in pushing a series of proposals that would make it easier for highly skilled immigrants to work in the United States. 

The lawmakers — Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Rubio — said their Startup Act 2.0 seeks to give businesses a better chance to attract talent.

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The senators’ bill would create new visas, one allowing foreign students who obtained graduate degrees in math, science and other related fields to stay in the United States, and another for immigrant entrepreneurs who grow jobs and create companies here. 

It also eliminates limits on how many work-based visas the United States offers to citizens of a certain country.

Those proposals come as Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill have struggled to find common ground on immigration since efforts to hammer out a comprehensive solution broke down in the George W. Bush administration. 

In recent years, Democrats have pushed the so-called DREAM Act, which would create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who were brought to the country by their parents and went on to go to college or join the military. 

Coons and Warner are among the Democrats who support that legislation, which fell short of being enacted in 2010. Warner flirted with a 2008 presidential campaign, before eventually running for the Senate, and is still seen as a potential 2016 candidate for the White House.  

But Rubio, who is frequently mentioned as a possible running mate for presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, is working on his own version of the idea, and the senators said Tuesday that they hoped lawmakers wouldn’t let the hurdles facing comprehensive immigration reform dissuade them from backing their more targeted approach.

“I think that’s a meritorious issue,” Rubio said of illegal immigrants who come to the United States with their parents. “I think it should be dealt with separately, and I think that that’s where it will be dealt with.”

The lawmakers also noted that issues they are dealing with have been used in the past as leverage points in the broader immigration debate. 

“I would guess that 80 percent of my colleagues in Congress would agree with the visa provisions in this legislation,” Moran said. “And what I would encourage is that we not take the attitude or approach that unless we do everything, we can’t do anything.”

In addition to the immigration proposals, the senators’ proposal would also permanently exempt some small-business stock owned for at least five years from capital gains taxes, something the sponsors say would help give confidence to investors.

It would also create a new, targeted research and development incentive for new start-up companies, and encourage the commercialization of research started at universities. 

On the regulation front, the bill would also mandate that government agencies undertake a cost-benefit analysis on major proposals. 

Those proposals, the senators said, mark their latest attempt to find initiatives that can appeal to both Republicans and Democrats. They described their bill as a natural follow-up to the so-called Jobs Act signed into law by President Obama in April.

Rubio suggested Tuesday that, if Congress was able to push these sorts of proposals through, it could play a small role in giving the American public more confidence in their lawmakers. 

The lawmakers also said that spurring the economy will need to play a role as Washington fights to rein in deficits. 

Still, the senators noted that other proposals have been introduced that deal with high-skilled immigration, and that they were looking for allies in the House. And they added that even with their current partnership, Democrats and Republicans have broadly different philosophies on how to spark the economy — something that will play a large role in this fall’s election.

“To suggest that, simply because we’re jointly introducing a bill that has some solid common ground, we’ve done away with all partisanship, obviously would be overreaching,” Coons said.

All four vowed Tuesday to lobby hard for their measure, even as they acknowledged the conventional wisdom that it’s tough to legislate in an election year.

“We didn’t get the memo you’re supposed to take election years off,” Warner said at a news conference at the Capitol. “Clearly, China’s not taking this year off. Brazil’s not taking this year off. India’s not taking this year off.”