Friday, January 25, 2013

New bill to raise H1 cap up to 300,000 and no cap on green card for STEM applicants.

This post has been updated. Please click here:

A bipartisan group of Senators is planning to introduce a bill that not only hikes the H-1B cap, but allows it to rise automatically with demand to a maximum of 300,000 visas annually.

This 20-page bill, called the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013 or the "I-Squared Act of 2013," is being developed by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Chris Coons (D-Del.).

Presently, the U.S. has an H-1B visa cap of 65,000. There are another 20,000 H-1B visas set aside for advanced degree gradates of U.S. universities, for 85,000 in total. Under the new bill, the base H-1B cap would increase from 65,000 to 115,000. But the cap would be allowed to rise automatically with demand, according to a draft of the legislation.

Once the H-1B visa cap reaches 115,000, the automatic increases takes over. The cap may increase by 20,000 visas if the cap is reached within 45 days of the start of the annual application period, April 1. That increase will also carry over to the following fiscal year.

If the cap isn't exhausted for 60 days, it would rise by 15,000 visas. If it takes most of the year to reach the cap, it will go up 5,000. The upper most cap limit that the cap can creep up to is 300,000.

This bill, which also eliminates per-country caps, exempts from the H-1B cap advanced degree science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) graduates of U.S. universities. This escalation formula also allows for shrinking the cap if visa demand falls, though it won't fall below the 115,000 threshold.

The H-1B cap increase provisions will be very controversial for many reasons. The visa is seen as a tool by offshore companies to replace U.S. workers. Some critics see it as instrumental in age discrimination with an impact on wages. On the other side are U.S. tech companies, such as Microsoft and Google, which argue that H-1B visa is essential to hiring workers.

Grassley and Durbin have been critical of the H-1B program and want restrictions on visa use.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who heads the immigration subcommittee, has been leading a separate effort to develop a comprehensive immigration bill that may include high-tech provisions of its own. The Immigration Innovation Act of 2013 could also be used as a bargaining chip in pursuit of a comprehensive bill, but that prospect remains uncertain.

The bill also attempts to reduce the backlog for green cards by exempting certain groups of people from the employment-based green card cap, such as dependents of employment-based visa recipients, "outstanding professors and researchers," and foreign-born graduates from U.S. universities with advanced degrees in math, science and engineering. It would also eliminate the per-country caps on employment-based green cards.

Additionally, the bill proposes to increase the fees that employers would have to pay to petition for H-1B visas and employment-based green cards. The additional money from these fees will go towards a grant program dedicated to promoting education in the so-called STEM fields—science, technology, engineering and math—and "worker retraining" at the state-level, according to a one-page summary of the bill. 

 This bill is scheduled to be introduced next week on Jan 29.

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