With the United States Senate approving the comprehensive immigration legislation on June 27, 2013, the effort to enable a few thousand Tibetans to immigrate here has moved to the next stage in the process. The legislation includes a provision to extend immigrant visas to a limited number of displaced Tibetan in India and Nepal.

“Senate passage is a critical step in the effort to enact a comprehensive immigration bill,” said Todd Stein, Director of Government Relations at the International Campaign for Tibet. “While the Tibet measure is just one tiny provision in a huge bill, it can provide big benefits for Tibetan communities in South Asia and America, as well as advance U.S. foreign policy goals.”

The provision, which was added to the bill by the Senate Judiciary Committee in May, would grant 5,000 visas to eligible Tibetans residing in India and Nepal to allow them to immigrate to the United States. The measure, offered as an amendment by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), is modeled on a successfully implemented program that brought Tibetans to the United States in the 1990s.

In order to become law, the Senate immigration bill must be reconciled with a version that would pass the House of Representatives. Currently, the House Judiciary Committee is considering a series of immigration-related bills rather than one overall bill. It is unclear how and when these bills would be considered on the House floor. The chances that the differences between the two bills can be resolved and a single final immigration bill passed is the subject of much speculation in Washington.

There was no debate on the Tibet provision on the Senate floor. It passed by voice vote with bipartisan support in the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 20 (ICT report, US Senate Committee recommends 5,000 visas for displaced Tibetans; measure faces long process in House and Senate before enactment)