Funding for the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’s) research programs would remain essentially flat under a 2015 spending bill approved today by the U.S. House of Representatives. But that’s probably not the last word on its research budget: There may not be enough votes to win Senate passage, and the White House has threatened to veto it over provisions on immigration that it dislikes. A stalemate would leave DHS’s budget frozen at last year’s levels for months to come.Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of six senators is renewing their push to make it easier for highly skilled immigrants to work in the United States and remain permanently. But the introduction yesterday of Immigration Innovation (“I-Squared”) Act of 2015, which mirrors legislation introduced in the previous Congress, is drawing criticism from some groups that represent technical workers.House lawmakers voted 263 to 191 today to approve the $39.7 billion DHS measure (H.R. 240), which would fund DHS in the 2015 fiscal year which began this past fall. It includes $1.1 billion for DHS’s science and technology directorate, a cut of $116 million from 2014 levels. But the bulk of the reduction reflects declining construction costs for new laboratory facilities, including the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, a $1.2 billion, high-security laboratory in Kansas.Sign up for our daily newsletterGet more great content like this delivered right to you!Country *AfghanistanAland IslandsAlbaniaAlgeriaAndorraAngolaAnguillaAntarcticaAntigua and BarbudaArgentinaArmeniaArubaAustraliaAustriaAzerbaijanBahamasBahrainBangladeshBarbadosBelarusBelgiumBelizeBeninBermudaBhutanBolivia, Plurinational State ofBonaire, Sint Eustatius and SabaBosnia and HerzegovinaBotswanaBouvet IslandBrazilBritish Indian Ocean TerritoryBrunei DarussalamBulgariaBurkina FasoBurundiCambodiaCameroonCanadaCape VerdeCayman IslandsCentral African RepublicChadChileChinaChristmas IslandCocos (Keeling) IslandsColombiaComorosCongoCongo, The Democratic Republic of theCook IslandsCosta RicaCote D’IvoireCroatiaCubaCuraçaoCyprusCzech RepublicDenmarkDjiboutiDominicaDominican RepublicEcuadorEgyptEl SalvadorEquatorial GuineaEritreaEstoniaEthiopiaFalkland Islands (Malvinas)Faroe IslandsFijiFinlandFranceFrench GuianaFrench PolynesiaFrench Southern TerritoriesGabonGambiaGeorgiaGermanyGhanaGibraltarGreeceGreenlandGrenadaGuadeloupeGuatemalaGuernseyGuineaGuinea-BissauGuyanaHaitiHeard Island and Mcdonald IslandsHoly See (Vatican City State)HondurasHong KongHungaryIcelandIndiaIndonesiaIran, Islamic Republic ofIraqIrelandIsle of ManIsraelItalyJamaicaJapanJerseyJordanKazakhstanKenyaKiribatiKorea, Democratic People’s Republic ofKorea, Republic ofKuwaitKyrgyzstanLao People’s Democratic RepublicLatviaLebanonLesothoLiberiaLibyan Arab JamahiriyaLiechtensteinLithuaniaLuxembourgMacaoMacedonia, The Former Yugoslav Republic ofMadagascarMalawiMalaysiaMaldivesMaliMaltaMartiniqueMauritaniaMauritiusMayotteMexicoMoldova, Republic ofMonacoMongoliaMontenegroMontserratMoroccoMozambiqueMyanmarNamibiaNauruNepalNetherlandsNew CaledoniaNew ZealandNicaraguaNigerNigeriaNiueNorfolk IslandNorwayOmanPakistanPalestinianPanamaPapua New GuineaParaguayPeruPhilippinesPitcairnPolandPortugalQatarReunionRomaniaRussian FederationRWANDASaint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da CunhaSaint Kitts and NevisSaint LuciaSaint Martin (French part)Saint Pierre and MiquelonSaint Vincent and the GrenadinesSamoaSan MarinoSao Tome and PrincipeSaudi ArabiaSenegalSerbiaSeychellesSierra LeoneSingaporeSint Maarten (Dutch part)SlovakiaSloveniaSolomon IslandsSomaliaSouth AfricaSouth Georgia and the South Sandwich IslandsSouth SudanSpainSri LankaSudanSurinameSvalbard and Jan MayenSwazilandSwedenSwitzerlandSyrian Arab RepublicTaiwanTajikistanTanzania, United Republic ofThailandTimor-LesteTogoTokelauTongaTrinidad and TobagoTunisiaTurkeyTurkmenistanTurks and Caicos IslandsTuvaluUgandaUkraineUnited Arab EmiratesUnited KingdomUnited StatesUruguayUzbekistanVanuatuVenezuela, Bolivarian Republic ofVietnamVirgin Islands, BritishWallis and FutunaWestern SaharaYemenZambiaZimbabweI also wish to receive emails from AAAS/Science and Science advertisers, including information on products, services and special offers which may include but are not limited to news, careers information & upcoming events.Required fields are included by an asterisk(*)DHS’s main research account would dip by $4.5 million, to $457.5 million, although that is still $24 million higher than the White House’s request. The bill also maintains funding for DHS’s university-based research centers at $39.7 million, rejecting a White House proposal for an $8.7 million cut.Those outcomes are relatively positive from DHS’s perspective, budget observers note, given that lawmakers had little new money to work with. They are particularly noteworthy given the battering that DHS’s science budget has taken in recent years, with cuts of up to 50% to some programs.Today’s House action is the latest battle in a protracted war over immigration policy between President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans. Late last year, lawmakers approved 11 of the 12 annual appropriations bills that fund the federal government. They excluded the DHS bill, which includes funding for the nation’s immigration and border security programs, in protest against White House moves to make it easier for some undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States without fear of deportation.House Republicans today attached provisions to the spending measure that would make it more difficult for the White House to carry out its plans. The bill now moves to the Senate, where 60 votes will be needed to advance the House version. If supporters of the bill can’t muster that number, the Senate could pass a different version that would then have to be accepted by the House. But the clock is ticking: Both bodies must act before DHS’s current budget measure, which freezes spending at 2014 levels, expires at the end of February.Earlier this week, White House officials said they would recommend that Obama veto the DHS measure if it includes those immigration provisions. The immigration fight isn’t expected to affect funding levels for DHS’s science and technology directorate. But it will further delay the department’s final 2015 budget.I-Squared reemergesIn the meantime, Senator Orrin Hatch (R–UT) and five allies are hoping to resolve at least one part of the immigration policy puzzle—how to treat immigrants who come to the United States to earn science, engineering, and other technical degrees or to work in the high-tech sector. Yesterday, they reintroduced the I-Squared Act, which would, among other things, increase the number of visas and residency permits available to immigrants with technical skills and allow their spouses to work.The legislation aims to “help ensure the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs get their start in America, no matter where they are born,” said co-sponsor Senator Amy Klobuchar (D–MN) in a statement accompanying release of the bill. The other co-sponsors are Senators Marco Rubio (R–FL), Chris Coons (D–DE), Jeff Flake (R–AZ), and Richard Blumenthal (D–CT).But labor unions and some professional groups disagree, arguing that it will contribute to an oversupply of technical workers and help depress wages. The bill’s main purpose, critics argue, is to provide a steady supply of cheap foreign labor for U.S. firms, particularly in the information technology industry.“This is a wrong turn,” said Russ Harrison, government relations director for IEEE-USA in Washington, D.C., in a statement about the bill. The group, which has some 200,000 members, is particularly critical of provisions that would increase the number of temporary H-1B work visas available annually, from 65,000 to more than 100,000 and ultimately to as many as 300,000.H1-B visas can remain valid for up to 6 years, so the change could inject some 1.8 million new job applicants into the U.S. market, the group estimates. “The primary, practical function of the H-1B program is to outsource American high-tech jobs,” Harrison said. Instead, the group says, the United States should downplay temporary visas in favor of granting permanent residency (so-called green cards) to highly skilled workers. “We need more green cards, not more guest workers,” Harrison said.Some Republican senators, including Jeff Sessions of Alabama, have also said they oppose the I-Squared approach, in part because they believe the United States already has an oversupply of technical workers in many fields.But John Feinblatt, chair of the Partnership for a New American Economy, a coalition of industry and other groups, sees things differently. “We need high-skilled immigration reform, especially as we face labor shortages in areas like engineering, medicine, and science,” Feinblatt said in a statement. “Senator Hatch’s legislation is exactly the type of constructive progress we need to help our economy grow and compete globally.”I-Squared won’t be the only high-skills immigration proposal that Congress will consider this year. The issue is expected to be on the agenda of several presidential hopefuls jockeying for advantage in the runup to the 2016 election.
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