McCain open to visa bill in comprehensive immigration package

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he is open to wrapping a bill that would boost the number of visas available for high-skilled foreign workers into the broad comprehensive immigration framework that was announced on Monday.

A bipartisan group of four senators, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), is set to introduce a stand-alone bill on Tuesday that would significantly increase the cap for H-1B visas for skilled foreign workers, such as computer programmers and engineers.

"We hope that that kind of legislation will fit into the comprehensive immigration reform," McCain said after a press conference at which he and group of senators outlined a framework of principles for immigration legislation. "We'll have to examine it and get the Democrats' view of it and all that, but it's always going to be part of the discussion and part of a comprehensive plan."

McCain said Rubio has always made it clear that any sweeping immigration package should include a high-skilled measure, which is of chief concern to the tech industry.

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Rubio also signed onto the comprehensive immigration framework that was sketched out Monday by McCain and a bipartisan group of senators. Other supporters of the framework include top-ranking Democrats Sens. Dick Durbin (Ill.), Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Robert Menendez (N.J.).

During the press conference, Rubio said the principles included in the comprehensive framework were "very similar, if not the same" to a broad immigration plan he sketched out in press interviews earlier this month.

"It's the reason why I signed onto this," Rubio said.

When outlining his immigration plan to The Wall Street Journal this month, Rubio voiced support for bringing more high-skilled labor into the U.S.

The Immigration Innovation Act set to be introduced on Tuesday proposes to increase the cap for H-1B visas to 115,000 from the current cap of 65,000. It would also include a mechanism that would adjust the H-1B cap according to market demand, so it would allow for additional visas to be made available to foreign workers if the cap is hit early during a particular year. However, it can only hit a ceiling of 300,000 visas.

The bill also attempts to reduce the backlog for green cards by exempting certain groups of people from the employment-based green card cap, such as dependents of employment-based visa recipients and foreign-born gradates from U.S. universities with advanced degrees in math, science and engineering.

In addition to Rubio, the co-sponsors of the bill include Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.).

In a statement, former Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) said any comprehensive immigration bill should include the measures in the Immigration Innovation Act. Sununu and Democratic strategist Maria Cardona are co-charing inSPIRE STEM USA, a coalition made up of organizations and companies such as Microsoft, Intel and IBM that is pushing for high-skilled immigration reform and for Congress to strengthen science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education programs in the U.S.

“Any broad-based immigration reform effort would be smart to tackle this pressing problem,” Sununu said in the statement. “We should not miss the opportunity to create a stronger STEM education pipeline in the U.S. and to close the STEM jobs gap that we have today.“