A major overhaul of U.S. immigration rules to help unite families, allow more skilled workers in and increase the number of European immigrants won House approval Wednesday on a 231-192 vote.
The bill would increase immigration from the current limit of 540,000 a year to roughly 800,000. A similar Senate bill, which is favored by the administration, would raise the limit to just 630,000 immigrants.House and Senate negotiators will try to work out a compromise version in the short time remaining before Congress adjourns for the year.
In 1986 Congress granted amnesty to almost 1.7 million illegal immigrants, but the basic immigration law has has not been reformed since 1965. "A great deal has changed in the past 25 years," said Rep. Jack Brooks, D-Texas, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. "We need to take a fresh look."
U.S. companies seeking to hire skilled foreign workers currently must wait up to three years to secure visas. The bill would expedite the process and raise the number of employer-sponsored immigrants from the current level of around 30,000 to 65,000 each year.
The bill would help reunite families by increasing to 115,000 a year the number of spouses and minor children of permanent residents who can enter the country, plus 35,000 adult unmarried children.