US senators approve 5,000 visas for Tibet refugees

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US lawmakers debating a landmark immigration bill on Monday approved the provision of 5,000 visas to Tibetan refugees to enter the United States over the next three years.

Citing "terrible" and increasing oppression by Chinese authorities against Tibetans, Senator Dianne Feinstein offered the matter as an amendment to the vast legislation aimed at fixing the US immigration system.

Senator Feinstein said the measure, approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee by voice vote, would ease conditions for displaced Tibetans living in India and Nepal, where she noted Tibetan resettlement facilities are more than 50 years old.

"In Nepal, the government has been essentially following Chinese mandates to make it very difficult for the Tibetan refugee community," the veteran Democrat told fellow senators.

The immigration bill would ultimately provide a 13-year path to citizenship, or longer, for most of the 11 million people living in the United States illegally.

However, its prospects of getting through both the Senate and the House of Representatives remain uncertain. The Tibetan visa provision would take effect if the wider bill becomes law.

Senator Feinstein also cited the more than 110 Tibetans who have self immolated since 2009, with most dying of their injuries, in demonstrations against what they view as Chinese oppression.

Republican Chuck Grassley said he supported the visa measure knowing full well it would not sit well with authorities in Beijing.

"On this issue I don't mind irritating China," Republican Grassley said.

Senators have already waded through nearly a third of the more than 300 amendments being considered for the bipartisan immigration bill. Several of the measures are aimed at making the sweeping legislation more palatable to conservatives.

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