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What to expect as Senate immigration debate continues

The 844-page Senate immigration reform bill, as filed in April.
The 844-page Senate immigration reform bill, as filed in April.
Kitty Felde/KPCC

The Senate Judiciary Committee goes back to marking up the massive immigration reform bill on Tuesday. Last week, the committee weighed amendments related to border security; on Tuesday, members are expected to focus on the part of the 844-page bill  that pertains to non-immigrant work visas.

Provisions in the bill tied to work visas range from raising the annual cap on high-skilled worker visas to creating a new visa for low-skilled, non-agricultural workers, called the W-visa. 

Expect the debate over high-skilled workers and the labor needs of the tech industry to be a focal point. A host of amendments filed by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa aim to further regulate the program, including amendments aimed at combating fraud and avoiding the displacement of native-born U.S. workers. From The Hill:

Tech representatives have been privately fighting against a set of amendments offered by Grassley that propose to add new rules and requirements to the H-1B temporary worker program. They argue Grassley's amendments would make it difficult for their businesses to use the program to hire top foreign talent and could force them to make those hires abroad instead. 

...The tech industry is pushing for the committee to adopt a group of amendments by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). Those amendments include language similar to Hatch's Immigration Innovation Act that the tech community widely supports. 

Hatch's amendments would further raise high-skilled worker visa caps and make it easier for employers to hire foreign workers. Amendments tied to low-skilled workers could also be voted on, including ones from Grassley that would place limits on the renewal of W-visas and require applicants to provide proof of health insurance.

Another amendment from Grassley that could come up: delaying the issuance of an investor visa to South Korean nationals "until South Korea has fully removed age-based import restrictions on beef from the United States" — an apparent nod to his home state's beef industry.

Some of the most controversial amendments tied to immigrant visas — another section of the bill —  aren't on the agenda yet, but could be voted on soon.

These would include amendments from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, (D-Vt.),  to extend immigration rights to same-sex couples. Under current law, gay and lesbian U.S. citizens can't sponsor an immigrant spouse, as heterosexual U.S. citizens can. 

Another markup session is expected Thursday.