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Bill in US Senate Seeks to Increase Annual H1-B Visas, Backed by Tech Titans

The Immigration Innovation (I-Squared) Act of 2018 provides work authorisation for spouses and dependent children of H 1B visa holders and establishes a grace period during which H 1B visa holders can change jobs without losing legal status.


Updated:January 26, 2018, 8:42 AM IST
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Bill in US Senate Seeks to Increase Annual H1-B Visas, Backed by Tech Titans
Image for representation (Reuters)

Washington: Two Republican Senators on Thrusday introduced legislation in the Senate that seeks to increase the annual H-1B visa limit with an aim to bring in the world's "best and brightest" to the US.

Introduced by Senators Orrin Hatch and Jeff Flake, the Immigration Innovation (I-Squared) Act of 2018 provides work authorisation for spouses and dependent children of H 1B visa holders and establishes a grace period during which H 1B visa holders can change jobs without losing legal status.

It also exempts spouses and children of employment-based green card holders from the cap.

The legislation is supported by top American IT companies, including Microsoft and Facebook, and top trade bodies, including US Chambers of Commerce and Information Technology Industry Council.

In a joint statement Hatch and Flake said the bill focuses on areas vital to maintaining US' competitiveness in the global economy -- the availability of employment-based non-immigrant visas (H-1B visas) for industries in which there is a shortage of American labour, reforms to the H-1B programme to reduce fraud and help protect workers, increased access to green cards for high-skilled workers and directing fees collected for H-1B visas and green cards to promote STEM worker training and education.

Previous versions of the bill were introduced in the last two Congresses.

"Now more than ever, we need highly qualified workers with the skills employers need to succeed in the information economy," Hatch said.

"As I've long said, high-skilled immigration is merit-based immigration, and we need a high-skilled immigration system that works.

"The Immigration Innovation Act will help ensure that our companies have access to the world's best and brightest and are able to fill jobs in highly technical, specialised fields for which there is a shortage of American labor," he said.

Hatch said, it, at the same time, addresses abuses in the H-1B visa programme to ensure that it is not used to outsource jobs or undercut American wages.

"And it provides nearly USD 1 billion in new funding for STEM education and worker training programmes through increases in visa fees. This bill is a win for all sides," he said.

The reforms included in the I-Squared Act are critical to fixing a broken US immigration system that has been unable to keep up with the needs of American employers, Flake said.

"Taking these steps to foster a vibrant economy for homegrown and foreign entrepreneurs, increase access to the high-skilled talent that US businesses depend on, and attract the best students in the world to US universities will help ensure the United States remains a leader in innovation and global competition," he said.

The bill uncaps the existing exemption (currently 20,000) for holders of US master's degrees or higher from the annual numerical limitation on H 1B visas for individuals who are being sponsored for or who will be sponsored for a green card.

It increases the annual base allocation of H 1B visas from 65,000 to 85,000.

The bill creates a market-based escalator to allow the supply of H 1B visas to meet demand.

Under the escalator, up to 1,10,000 additional H 1B visas (for a total of 1,95,000) may be granted in a fiscal year if certain requirements are met.

The bill prioritises adjudication of cap-subject H 1B visa petitions for holders of US master's degrees or higher, holders of foreign PhDs and holders of US STEM bachelor degrees.

It subjects employers who fail to employ an H 1B worker for more than three months during the individual's first year of work authorisation to a penalty.

The bill prohibits employers from hiring an H 1B visa holder with the purpose and intent to replace a US worker and provides work authorisation for spouses and dependent children of H 1B visa holders.

It increases H 1B worker mobility by establishing a grace period during which H 1B visa holders can change jobs without losing legal status.

The bill updates 1998 law exempting H 1B dependent employers from certain recruitment and non displacement requirements. It raises from USD 60,000 to USD 100,000 the H 1B salary level at which the salary-based exemption takes effect.

It also narrows education-based exemption to H 1B hires with a US PhD Eliminates exemptions for "super-dependent" employers altogether.

The bill eliminates annual per-country limit for employment-based green cards and adjusts per-country caps for family-based green cards.

It enables the recapture of green card numbers that were approved by Congress in previous years but not used. The bill exempts spouses and children of employment-based green card holders, holders of US STEM master's degrees or higher, and certain individuals with extraordinary ability in the arts and sciences from worldwide numerical caps on employment-based green cards.

It increases worker mobility for individuals on the path to a green card by enabling such individuals to change jobs earlier in the process without losing their place in the green card line.

It also creates new conditional green card category to allow US employers to sponsor university-educated foreign professionals through a separate path from H 1B.

The bill also proposes to enables F 1 student visa holders to seek permanent resident status while a student or during Optional Practical Training (OPT).

It increases fees for H 1B visas and employment-based green cards and directs fees toward state-administered grants to promote STEM education and worker training.

"The Senators' proposed I-Squared Act is an important step in protecting US workers, investing in STEM education, and ensuring that we can recruit people to fill jobs here in the US," said Brad Smith, president, Microsoft.

Erin Egan, VP of US Public Policy, Facebook said the legislation will modernise the H1-B visa and green card programmes while also encouraging increased STEM education in the US to train the next generation of US workers in high- growth fields.

Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer, US Chamber of Commerce said the bill would vastly improve high-skilled immigration to the US by establishing market-based H-1B quotas and instituting various reforms to employment-based immigrant visa system that would make nation's immigration system more merit-based.

Lynn Shotwell, executive director, Council for Global Immigration said that the legislation would ensure that employers acting in good faith have access to the top global talent they need to compete, while providing additional investments to train and educate US workers in high-demand STEM fields, while also reforming the H-1B programme with enhanced protections for US workers.

"This bill will greatly enable continued US innovation, job creation, and economic expansion, while preventing abuses of the H-1B programme that could harm US workers," said Mark MacCarthy, senior vice president for Public Policy of the Software & Information Industry Association.

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| Edited by: Ananya Chakraborty
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