Senators Hatch, Flake introduce merit-based immigration bill expanding H-1B visa program

The Immigration Innovation Act of 2018 would more than double high-tech visas, eliminate employment-based green card backlogs

By Geeta Goindi

Washington, DC, January 28, 2018 – Republican senators Orrin Hatch of Utah and Jeff Flake of Arizona have introduced an immigration bill for high-skilled workers which is expected to benefit thousands of Indians in the H-1B visa category.

The Immigration Innovation (I-Squared) Act of 2018 would more than double the high-tech visas and virtually eliminate employment-based green card backlogs. The senators are hoping the measure will be added as an amendment to legislation on DACA that would allow some 800,000 Dreamers to stay in the US.

Among other provisions, the Immigration Innovation Act increases the base allocation of H-1B visas from 65,000 to 85,000; allows up to 110,000 additional H-1B visas (for a total of 195,000) to be granted in a fiscal year if certain demand requirements are met; provides work authorization for spouses and dependent children of H-1B visa holders; increases H-1B worker mobility by establishing a grace period during which H-1B visa holders can change jobs without losing legal status; eliminates annual per-country limit for employment-based green cards and adjusts per country caps for family-based green cards; exempts spouses and children of employment-based green card holders as well as individuals with extraordinary ability in the arts and sciences from worldwide numerical caps on employment-based green cards; creates a new conditional green card category allowing US employers to sponsor university-educated foreign professionals through a separate path from H-1B; and enables F-1 student visa holders to seek permanent resident status while a student or during Optional Practical Training (OPT).

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Republican Senators Orrin Hatch of Utah (left) and Jeff Flake of Arizona have introduced the Immigration Innovation Act of 2018 which would more than double the number of H-1B visas issued to “the best and brightest” foreign workers

Now more than ever, we need highly qualified workers with the skills employers need to succeed in the information economy”, Hatch stated in a press release. “As I’ve long said, high-skilled immigration is merit-based immigration, and we need a high-skilled immigration system that works”, he underscored.

About the Immigration Innovation Act, he explained it will help ensure that American companies have access to the world’s best and brightest and are able to fill jobs in specialized fields where there is a shortage of US workers. Regarding reforms, he said the bill will ensure that the H-1B visa program is not used to outsource jobs or undercut American wages. By increasing visa fees, he pointed out that the proposed legislation will provide nearly one billion dollars for funding STEM education and worker training programs.

“This bill is a win for all sides”, Hatch said.

High-skilled Indian workers, DALCA kids urge US lawmakers to clear green card backlog

Senator Flake noted, “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. 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”.

The Hatch-Flake legislation has garnered strong support from corporate America with several business leaders commending the bill.

The “proposed I-Squared Act is an important step in protecting US workers, investing in STEM education, and ensuring that we can recruit people to fill jobs here in the US”, said Brad Smith, president of Microsoft. “The tech sector’s lifeblood is our employees”, he emphasized. “Our future – and the competitiveness of the entire US tech sector – requires that we recruit some of the best and brightest in the world so they can work closely with employees born and raised in the United States”.

Erin Egan, Vice President of US Public Policy at Facebook, said that the social media giant is pleased to support the Immigration Innovation Act. “This important legislation will modernize the H-1B visa and green card programs while also encouraging increased STEM education in the US to train the next generation of US workers in high-growth fields. We appreciate the leadership of Senators Hatch and Flake on this critical issue, and we look forward to working to ensure its passage into law”, he stated.

Michael Beckerman, president and CEO of the Internet Association, noted, “One of the biggest economic challenges facing our nation is the need for qualified, highly skilled professionals, domestic and foreign, who can create jobs and immediately contribute to and improve our economy. This legislation will invest in our country’s competitiveness by providing high-skilled foreign workers and people trained in the US the opportunity to stay in the US to help our economy grow”, he said.

Urging Congress to approve the I-Squared Act of 2018, John Neuffer, president and CEO of the Semiconductor Industry Association, said, “Our member companies must be able to recruit and retain the best and brightest, regardless of where they were born, to ensure the US semiconductor industry maintains and strengthens its global leadership position”.

Neil Bradley, Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer at the US Chamber of Commerce, lauded the Immigration Innovation Act of 2018 which, he noted, “would vastly improve high-skilled immigration to the US by established market-based H-1B quotas and instituting various reforms to our employment-based immigrant visa system that would make our nation’s immigration system more merit-based”.

Victoria Espinel, president and CEO of BSA, The Software Alliance, affirmed, “I-Squared strikes the ideal balance between encouraging high-skilled immigration and bolstering the American workforce. The tech industry – and all sectors of our economy – are made stronger by the contributions of immigrants. Expanding H-1B visas to attract more high-skilled workers will help US companies succeed and create new jobs. At the same time, the bill’s provision for STEM education and STEM worker training will increase the skills of our own workforce and prepare us for the jobs of tomorrow”.

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