Senate bill would increase numbers of high-skilled immigrants

13 Jan 15


An immigration bill that is very favorable to high-skilled immigration was introduced in the Senate today. The Immigration Innovation (I-Squared) Act of 2015 would increase the number of H-1B visas available annually and would eliminate the green-card backlog for most employment-based immigrants. The bipartisan legislation was introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and co-sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

Hatch introduced a similar version of this legislation in January 2013 (S. 169), which was subsequently incorporated into the Gang of 8 comprehensive immigration reform bill (S. 744) that passed the Senate in June 2013. The new I-Squared Act contains many of the same measures that existed in the previous version (S. 169) and which were passed as part of the comprehensive bill.

The 2015 version of I-Squared: 

  • Raises the H-1B cap from 65,000 to 115,000 and institutes a market-based escalator clause that enables the cap to increase to a maximum of 195,000 based on demand for visas.
  • Exempts all persons holding advanced degrees from U.S. institutions from the H-1B cap.
  • Allows spouses of H-1B visa holders to work in the U.S.
  • Provides H-1B workers, whose employment terminates, with a grace period during which they may maintain status while seeking employment, and allows certain visa holders to renew status in the U.S.
  • Allows dual intent for foreign students so that they may pursue green cards.
  • Reduces the green-card backlog by recapturing more than 200,000 unused green cards, creating new exemptions from the cap, and eliminating per-country limits on employment-based green cards.
  • Mandates that the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department ensure that all visa numbers authorized by Congress are issued.
  • Makes priority dates current by deeming a visa “immediately available” if any available visa in the applicable preference category has not yet been issued to an immigrant for that fiscal year.
  • Creates an account funded by an increase in H-1B and green-card application fees that would go toward strengthening initiatives in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

BAL has created a legislative analysis of the new I-Squared Act of 2015 and a comparative analysis of high-skilled immigration provisions in key Senate and House bills.

BAL Analysis: Substantively, the H-1B ceiling in I-Squared is lower than in the version introduced in 2013 (195,000 compared to 300,000). Nevertheless, the new proposed H-1B ceiling remains higher than either piece of legislation that advanced in the House or Senate in 2013. Furthermore, several provisions in I-Squared are stronger than the bills that advanced in 2013. These include measures to address the green-card backlog, make it easier for foreign graduates to remain in the U.S., and promote greater consistency in agency decisions. Finally, unlike the bill that passed the Senate, I-Squared contains no restrictive provisions that would limit access to high-skilled workers.

A bill that focuses on high-skilled immigration is an encouraging development, but passage remains a challenge.

BAL is working closely with the legislators sponsoring this bill and is monitoring all legislative developments in Congress. We will continue to provide updates as additional information becomes available. For more frequent updates and news, follow us on our BAL Government Affairs Twitter page.

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