The US Senate has agreed on the broad contours of a comprehensive immigration reform legislation that not only deals with an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in America but also seeks to increase the H1B visa allocation from the current 65,000 to 115,000 annually.
While, the proposed legislation has provision for increasing the number of H1B visas by 50,000, a bi-partisan group of senators made it clear that the "last word on the subject had not been said."
"There are provisions for H1B. There have been others who wanted to see an expansion of that programme and there are some members who are concerned about the fact that some of the existing H1B have been more involved in shipping jobs overseas rather than creating jobs here," said Senator Edward Kennedy while announcing the bi-partisan agreement on the Immigration legislation.
"This is an evolving issue. I'm not sure we've reached our final position on it. It's being reviewed at the current time," he said.
"In the legislation itself, it goes from the 65,000 a day to 115,000" said Arizona Republican Jon Kyl.
The White House hailed the Senate accord on the Immigration reform with the President George W Bush hoping that the House of Representatives will come through with the "second" important step.
"As I reflect upon this important accomplishment, the first step toward a comprehensive immigration bill, it reminds me of how much the Americans appreciate the fact that we can work together, and when we work together that they see positive things," President Bush said.
"Immigration is a tough issue for a lot of us. The agreement reached today is one that'll help enforce our borders, but equally importantly, it'll treat people with respect" Bush said.
"I look forward to a good vote out of the Senate, as quickly as Leader Reid can get the bill moving. And then we move to working with the House of Representatives to take this first step and convert it into a successful second step. I really am anxious to sign a comprehensive immigration bill as soon as I possibly can," he said.
The immigration agreement in the Senate is only the first step in a long drawn process that has no guarantee of being in the final legislation.
The Senate first of all has to come up with a firm legislation and then approve it; the House of Representatives will then come up with their companion legislation and vote on it. The two versions will then have to be reconciled and the final text voted on again in the Senate and the House, a process that is not only highly complicated but also a lengthy one.
Presently, the issue of the 12 million illegals in the US is getting more importance than the H1B visa issue.
"There's broad consensus that 12 million undocumented workers who are here should be offered the chance to earn their legalisation. If this bill becomes law, it will provide an historic opportunity for millions of people right away," Senator Kennedy, one of the prime movers of the Immigration legislation said.
"On family immigration, as someone who comes from a large family, I couldn't be more committed to upholding our policy of supporting families that want to stay together. This proposal includes family backlog reduction in eight years for most of the 4 million in the family backlog, a backlog that currently stretches some 22 years," Kennedy said.
"About 20 per cent will be given to refugees who desperately need asylum in this country. And the remaining third will be based on a point system that factors in preferences for both high-skilled, low-skilled workers as well as extended family ties. The bill also includes temporary workers that will have strong labour protections," he said.
"This plan isn't perfect, but it's a strong bill and it is a worthy solution. Only a bipartisan bill will become law, and I believe we owe it to the American people to stop talking about immigration and start acting," the Democratic law maker said.