Jan 25, 2018

Senate bill would allow up to 195,000 H-1B workers per year

Photo: Bill Clark / Getty

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is expected to re-introduce his bipartisan immigration bill "I-Squared" on Thursday, Hatch's spokesperson confirmed to Axios. The bill would expand the cap on high-skilled worker visas (H-1Bs) per year to 195,000.

Why it matters: This is another big immigration topic in the middle of heated debates over what to do with DACA. The Trump administration has made several efforts to crack down on the H-1B program, but so far, high-skilled worker visas have been left out of DACA and other immigration negotiations.

Political drama: Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware) backed the bill in 2015, but has not signed onto the bill this time. However, the bill included Coons' edits, two industry sources told Axios, enabling him to add his name later after the DACA excitement wears off. Coons' office has not replied to requests for comment.

The bill, according to a draft obtained by Axios:

  • Increases the number of H-1B visas permitted to as much as 195,000 per year instead of the current 85,000 per year, including exemptions.
  • Allows the spouses of H-1B workers to legally work in the U.S. Currently, spouses of H-1B holders with a pending green card are allowed to work in the U.S., but DHS is expected to end this practice next month.
  • Eliminates the per-country caps for green cards, which has created a backlog of applicants
  • Increases visa fees to provide almost $1 billion toward STEM education and U.S. worker training programs.
  • Allows unused, but approved, green cards from previous years to be reissued.
  • Expands the cap for researchers and those who have advanced degrees.
  • Raises the minimum salary that H1-B dependent firms must pay their visa workers to $100,000 and requires that the salary be increased based on inflation every three years. This specifically targets the India-based outsourcing firms who are H-1B dependent, meaning more than 15% of their workforce are visa holders.
  • The bill makes it easier for H-1B workers to move to other companies without the threat of losing their visa sponsor.
  • Calls for a study within a year of the bill's enactment, which would reevaluate which kinds of jobs are eligible for H1B workers.
  • Simplifies the process for employers petitioning for H-1B workers.
  • Requires that companies applying for H-1B visas be able to show that they made efforts to recruit Americans to the same positions first.

Key quote: Matt Whitlock, Hatch's Spokesman, told Axios in a statement that "high-skilled immigration is merit-based immigration" and that the bill "represents an ideal first step in bringing Republicans and Democrats together to address flaws in our broken immigration system.” 

On the House side, Rep. Darrell Issa's H-1B reform bill passed unanimously out of committee, but has yet to receive a House vote. Both bills attempt to crack down on H-1B dependent companies.

Tech support: Dean Garfield, President and CEO of ITI which represents tech companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft, told Axios, "The commonsense I-Squared Act will allow employers to recruit and retain the best and brightest and fuel America’s leadership in technology and innovation."

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