U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, along with three other Senators, introduced a new bill in the Senate designated the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013. This bill includes a variety of provisions that would increase the number of H1-B visas and visas provided to foreign workers, while limiting the costs and restrictions for highly skilled immigrant workers to change jobs or start their own businesses. As a long-time immigration lawyer in Texas, I am optimistic that this bill will receive support from both parties and the business community.
Commonly dubbed the I-Squared Act, this bill has already received enthusiastic praise from many business leaders who recognize that attracting and retaining highly gifted students in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines are critical for economic growth. Many U.S. companies are suffering from a skilled worker gap that is hobbling competitiveness.
The I-Squared Act would introduce a market-based system for H1-B visas. Currently, the U.S. government only provides about 65,000 of these skilled worker visas per year, but this new bill would increase this number to 115,000, with another possible extension up to 300,000 if demand is high. The new system would set periodic thresholds that would increase the cap from 5,000 up to 20,000 if the application quotas are met within a set number of calendar days. The new system would also remove the 20,000 cap on advanced degree holders and permit spouses of H1-B visa grantees to seek employment.
Other highly skilled visas would also be revamped under this bill. Visas in the E, H, L, O and P categories would be renewable, allowing these skilled workers to extend their professional stays in the country. Furthermore, many of the issues and costs associated with changing jobs would be mitigated.
Students in STEM concentrations would also receive dual intent visas that would enable them to more easily remain in the country and transition to the professional world. They would also be able to use unused and recaptured visas from prior months which would allow spouses and family members to remain with them.
There have been a number of studies showing that highly skilled immigrant entrepreneurs are major drivers of job creation and economic growth. A study by the Small Business Administration showed that immigrant entrepreneurs begin almost 350 businesses a month, which easily outnumbers the 270 businesses founded by U.S. born business people. The highly skilled STEM post-graduates from foreign countries also receive more than 3 times as many patents as U.S. advanced degree holders.
As businesses push to open the door to highly skilled workers, it is encouraging to see Congressional leaders responding appropriately. As an immigration attorney in Texas, I have too often seen skilled and unskilled workers who are willing and able to contribute to our economy turned away because of illogical immigration laws.
If you or someone you know has concerns or questions about H1-B or other visas, please contact my office at (512) 215-5225 to confidentially discuss the matter.