Bipartisan efforts in the U.S. Senate are once again sparking hope for a meaningful and sensible change to the country’s immigration laws. The new proposed bill entitled, “Immigration Innovation or I-Squared Act of 2015” introduced on January 13, 2015, focuses mainly on expanding laws applying to high-skilled guest workers.
Under present law, a maximum of 65,000 new H-1B visas are issued each fiscal year. An additional 20,000 visas are made available to graduates with master’s degree or higher from U.S. universities.
For years, U.S. companies especially those with technology components have been clamoring for a significant increase in the number of new H-1B visas issued per year. The annual H-1B cap of 65,000 which has remained unchanged for ten years can no longer keep up with the demand of the present time. An increase to the current cap would allow U.S. companies to hire much-needed high-skilled workers
In April 2013, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) received approximately 124,000 petitions in one week’s time and in April 2014, the number increased to around 172,500 petitions which the USCIS received within a similar timeframe.
The proposed I-Squared Act seeks to increase the current annual H-1B visa cap from 65,000 to 115,000, and if there is high demand, it would even allow for an increase of up to 195,000 per year. The proposed bill would also eliminate the 20,000 limit on advanced degree petitions.
The proposal is seen to benefit U.S. companies in need of workers with advanced degrees from U.S. universities in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) disciplines.
The proposed bill would also allow dependent spouses of H-1B visa holders to work, increase worker mobility so they can change jobs with ease, allow dual intent for foreign students, recapture unused green cards approved by Congress in previous years but were not used, and exempt from visa caps, “persons of extraordinary ability,” “outstanding professors and researchers,” U.S. degree holders in STEM disciplines, and dependents of employment-based immigrant visa recipients.
Many have high hopes for this proposed legislation which is authored by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Marco Rubio (R-Florida), Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), Chris Coons (D-Delaware), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut).
According to Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware), “Our immigration system is broken, though, and while I still believe the Senate should come together again on comprehensive immigration reform, it’s important that we make progress in the areas that Democrats and Republicans do agree on…”
It can be recalled that the remaining embers of hope for a comprehensive legislative fix to the broken immigration system died in the hands of House Republican leaders who snubbed and refused to even take up the Senate-passed comprehensive immigration reform bill.
Although the partisan divide on this particular bill is clear, it seems that other proposed bills on immigration also suffered the same fate. In 2013, the bill, S. 169, which mirrors the proposed I-Squared Act, did not even make it beyond the committee level.
Meanwhile, another bipartisan bill, known as “The Startup Act” was also introduced in the Senate on January 16, 2015. The proposed bill seeks to create, among others, an entrepreneur’s visa which will allow foreign-born entrepreneurs to remain in the U.S. to launch businesses and create jobs.
This proposed bill introduced by Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Mark Warner (D-Virginia), together with Chris Coons (D-Delaware), Roy Blunt (R-Missouri), Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), is the fourth version of the “Startup Act” which they have been working on for more than three years.
The fate of these proposed legislations remain uncertain. However, it is high time that our legislators set aside partisan politics and put in place reforms that have been long overdue.