Four senators, two Republicans and two Democrats, have come together to sponsor a new bill in the Senate that could, if it became law, see the US grant 300,000 H-1B visas a year. It would also see a rise in the number of employment based green cards granted to foreign graduates from US universities and allow the spouses of H-1B visa holders to work.
The senators, Orrin Hatch (Republican, Utah), Marco Rubio (Republican Florida), Amy Klobuchar (Democrat, Minnesota) and Chris Coons (Democrat, Delaware) announced the proposed law The Immigration Innovation Act of 2013 on Tuesday 29th January 2013. The main provisions are:
H-1B visas• An increase in the cap on the number of H-1B visas granted to graduates from 65,000 to 115,000 per year.
• The establishment of an 'escalator' that would see the number of H-1Bs granted rise with the demands of the economy up to a ceiling of 300,000 a year at times of economic boom.
• The establishment of a system that would see extra visas being made available is the cap is reached. The number made available will depend on how quickly the cap is reached. For example, if the cap was reached in 45 days, 20,000 visas would be made available immediately.
• The cap on the number of H-1Bs issued to advanced degree holders, which currently stands at 20,000 per year, should be removed altogether.
• All dependent spouses of H-1B holders should be granted work permits, if they want one.
• It should be made easier for highly skilled foreign workers to move between jobs and to change employers.
Student visasThe bill proposes making US student visas 'dual intent' visas so that those travelling to the US on an F-1 student visa could, at a later stage, make an immigration application.
Immigrant visas and green cards• The bill proposes that any green cards that are not issued in one year should be capable of being re-issued the next (there is currently a cap on the number of employment based green cards that can be issued in any year. This change would allow any cards not issued, in the event that the cap is not reached to be distributed the next year)
• Exempt the following categories of people from the employment based green card cap.
o Dependents of employment based immigrant visa holders.
o The holders of degrees in STEM subjects (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics) from US universities
o Persons with 'extraordinary ability'
o Outstanding professors and researchers.
• Eliminate annual limits on the number of employment based visas that can be granted to immigrants from any one country. (Currently, the annual cap on the number of people from any country who can acquire a green card means that applicants from China and India may have to wait for up to eight years to receive a green card.
The bill also recommends that the fees from H-1B visas are returned to state governments and used to fund US students to study for STEM degrees.
The bill has been welcomed by Microsoft, TechAmerica and the US Computer and Communications Industry Association. Kevin Richards of TechAmerica said that the current H-1B cap of 65,000 was 'arbitrary' and was damaging 'our country's technology sector employers' ability to out-innovate our competitors in skilled, foreign-born individuals, many of whom are currently being educated in US colleges and universities.'
However, Ron Hira, professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, told Grant Gross of Computer World magazine in an email 'this is a terrible bill for American technology workers and students….given that employers can pay H-1Bs less than American workers, and they never have to look for available American workers before hiring an H-1B, expect the cap to be hit every year'.
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