Bill introduced in US Senate seeks to increase H1B visas
Washington: Two Republican Senators on Friday 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.