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Proposal would open up backlogged green cards for workers, create ‘trusted employer’ program
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Running counter to proposals from President Donald Trump to limit legal immigration, recently introduced legislation would more than double the number of temporary H-1B visas available to skilled workers.
The Immigration Innovation Act, sponsored by Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., could be subsumed into the broader bipartisan compromise on immigration currently being hashed out in Congress, but the odds of that happening are not high.
Previous versions of the legislation, dubbed the "I-Squared Act," have not made much progress despite bipartisan support, and expanding the annual allotment of temporary work visas doesn't fit with Trump's "Hire American" agenda.
"The chances of passage 'as is' are low, particularly because this version lost some of the bipartisan support of earlier versions," said Elizabeth Stern, a partner in Mayer Brown's Washington, D.C., office and leader of the firm's Global Mobility & Migration practice. "But the bill represents a critical aspect of our country's future in that it promotes recruitment and cultivation of top talent in the STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] fields from the U.S. and abroad. It also avoids the blunt, erroneous conclusion that the IT sector's use of H-1B visas is fraught with fraud and abuse, instead focusing on concrete avenues to stem specific abuses."
Hatch has said his bill addresses White House concerns by ensuring that the visa program is not used to outsource jobs or undercut U.S. wages and highlights merit-based immigration, with its focus on high-skilled, in-demand technology workers, that the Trump administration often speaks about.
"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, specialized fields for which there is a shortage of American labor," Hatch said. The bill also provides hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding for STEM education and worker training programs through increases in visa fees.
The measure is supported by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM); the Council for Global Immigration (CFGI), a SHRM affiliate; and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as well as the tech sector, which says it needs access to more skilled workers.
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The proposal would increase the number of H-1B visas allowed each year to 85,000 from 65,000 and would create a moving cap allowing as many as 195,000 total visas if employers say they need more workers.
"Everyone agrees the H-1B system needs reform," said Rebecca Peters, director of government affairs at CFGI. "I-Squared provides a critical balance in reforming the H-1B by enhancing protections, education and training for U.S. workers, while providing a market-based cap that may increase or decrease with demand, responding in more real-time than today's cap and allowing for improved workforce planning."
In addition to increasing the number of visas available, the latest iteration of the Immigration Innovation Act would:
Green Card Reforms
The legislation would eliminate the annual per-country caps for employment-based green cards and recapture green card numbers that were approved by Congress in previous years but not used. It also exempts spouses and children of employment-based green card holders, and holders of U.S. advanced STEM degrees from a worldwide numerical cap on employment-based green cards and creates a new pool of 34,000 employment-based green cards for university-educated foreign professionals as an H-1B alternative.
"Eliminating per-country limits for employment-based green cards will largely benefit Indian and Chinese nationals who have been waiting in the visa queue for years," Stern said.
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