High Skilled Immigration Reforms Proposed: The Immigration Innovation Act of 2015

Last week a bipartisan group of Senators introduced the Immigration Innovation Act of 2015 (S. 153). Commonly referred to as the “I-Squared” Act, this bill provides critical reforms needed in the area of high-skilled immigration.

The bill includes the following provisions:

• Raises the H-1B cap from 65,000 to 115,000 and creates market demand provisions for the cap to go up (but not above 195,000) or down (but not below 115,000), based on usage.

• Removes the existing 20,000 cap on the U.S. advanced degree exemption for H-1Bs.

• Authorizes employment for dependent spouses of H-1B visa holders.

• Recognizes that foreign students at U.S. colleges and universities have “dual intent” so they aren’t penalized for wanting to stay in the U.S. after graduation.

• Recaptures green card numbers that were approved by Congress in previous years but were not used, and continues to do so going forward.

• Exempts dependents of employment-based immigrant visa recipients, U.S. STEM advanced degree holders, persons with extraordinary ability, and outstanding professors and researchers from the employment-based green card cap.

• Eliminates annual per-country limits for employment-based visa petitioners and adjusts per-country caps for family-based immigrant visas.

• Establishes a grant program using funds from new fees added to H-1Bs and employment-based green cards to promote STEM education and worker retraining.

The bill was introduced by Senators Hatch (R-UT), Klobuchar (D-MN), Rubio (R-FL), Coons (D-DE), Flake (R-AZ), and Blumenthal (D-CT).

If passed–and we all know that is a big “If”–these measures will be a move in the right direction for the improvement of high skilled immigration in the U.S.

The current base H-1B cap number is completely out of touch with U.S. business needs, as we see every April 1st. Cap demand does change year to year, and during the Great Recession, the annual quota was slowly depleted, but last year less than half of applicants were picked in the April lottery. Uncapping the Master’s degree program will be a boost for employers and higher education. The Dual Intent change brings the law in to sync with every day realities.

More can be done. The arbitrary six year cap on H-1B time creates all sorts of unnecessary chaos for some beneficiaries who wish to pursue permanent residence. Labor mobility should be improved, as persons can get stuck in their job due to a long-standing application. Innovation and entrepreneurship should be further encouraged in immigration laws, though use of the E, O, H-1B, and permanent resident categories. While STEM profession are desirable, immigration should focus more broadly on the higher educated. Reducing the cost of applications will encourage greater high skilled investment. Some type of citizen’s suit provision, or money-back guarantee, for arbitrary and capricious agency decisions might lead to more predictability from USCIS. Unlikely, for sure, but some measures are needed to call DHS agencies to account for the expensive red tape they sometimes needlessly foister on businesses. Filing fees have increased significantly over the years, and businesses have some reasonable expectations associated with the payment of these significant costs.

With the Republicans majorities in the Senate and House, there is a decent chance that legislative action on immigration will be taken in a piece-meal fashion, focusing on individual sector interests. If that happens, there’s also a decent chance high skilled immigration proposals such as the I-Squared Act will receive attention.