Most comprehensive legal immigration overhaul yet.
By Sujeet Rajan
WASHINGTON, DC: Legal immigrants waiting in line for a Green Card that seems like a mirage till now, foreign students on F1 visas who aspire to work in the US but fear being shunted out, skilled workers who are eager to relocate with an H-1B visa, spouses on H4 visas waiting for work permits and wealthy foreign entrepreneurs willing to start a business here, can only hope that the most comprehensive immigration bill introduced in the Senate on Tuesday goes through, and the House endorses it, this time around.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) had introduced a similar bill in 2013, which died in the Republican-controlled House last year with no action taken on it, or even a version introduced to merge aspects with the Senate version. It was a hard blow for advocates of expanding legal immigration.
But with the House and Senate now controlled by the Republicans, and the bill introduced by Hatch on Tuesday supported evenly by three Republicans and three Democrats – the others being, Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chris Coons (D-DE), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) – the bill has a real chance to see passage this year, and revitalize the US economy too, in the process.
It’s not yet known when the House will likely draft a bill of their own, but it’s unlikely that the Republicans would spite their own in the Senate. The earlier bill died in the House last year with the Republicans standing astute on not giving the Democrats the advantage of claiming the victory as their own.
The GOP has the vantage point now and with the 2016 presidential elections around the corner, they don’t want to rebuff the tech industry anymore. And with most Democrats having already given their nod for the bipartisan bill sponsored by Hatch in 2013, it augurs well for comprehensive legal immigration overhaul.
However, Democrats also have not been in favor of piecemeal legislation to promote legal immigration while putting the issue of fixing the illegal immigration on the backburner, so that might again become a hindrance. But at the same time, they certainly don’t want to make enemies of some of their biggest donors in Silicon Valley.
The Immigration Innovation (‘I-Squared Act’) bill introduced on Tuesday by Hatch is sweeping in its breadth of overhaul: in one stroke it seeks to hike the H-1B quota to 115,000 from the existing provision of 65,000 per year – with an additional provision to raising it to 195,000 per year if demand for overseas workers was strong enough; enable companies in the US to hire as many foreign graduates with advanced STEM degrees as they wish and require, with the existing 20,000 yearly allotted H-1B visa cap done away. It will also allow a grace period for foreign workers on H-1B visa to “change jobs and not be out of status.”
The bill would give work permits to all H4 visa holders, something which President Barack Obama had also ordered through executive action last year – with some exceptions as to who would qualify to get it – but which has yet to be implemented.
Most interestingly, and the laudable part of the bill is the wish to fix a broken system which had gone totally awry in the last decade with the drying up of Green Cars for legal immigrants from India and China on EB2 and EB3 category for permanent residency: it will allow for Green Cards to be ‘recaptured’ from the past.
This recapturing of Green Cards would technically mean that immigrants from India and China who had been waiting for years and seen no movement in dates for coming closer to getting a Green Card, might instantly qualify for a Green Card, or come close to getting it.
The EB2 category had actually retrogressed and according to immigration experts those immigrants from India and China on EB3 category road to a Green Card were looking at a wait time of 25-30 years, even if they had applied 7-8 years ago for a Green Card. Immigrants from countries apart from India and China do not face this obstacle, as most categories are current or move at fairly rapid pace.
The bill also seeks to give instant Green Cards, without any cap, to STEM advance degree holders – which would be likely individuals with doctoral level degrees – “persons with extraordinary ability,” and “outstanding professors and researchers”. This would be likely pertinent to even foreigners who get an offer to teach or do research in the US.
Hatch said in a statement after he introduced the bill: “I’m calling on everyone — the President, members of both parties, and stakeholders in the tech community – to support this bill and help make it the first step towards real immigration reform. We must find make concrete progress to solve some of the many critical problems facing our nation. I-Squared is an obvious solution to an undeniable need, and I want to work with everyone to get it done now.”
Another bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate on Tuesday backed by Sens. Jerry Moran (R., Kan.) and Mark Warner (D., Va.), along with four others, seeks to create an “entrepreneur’s visa” to allow people who want to start companies to stay in the country.
While this visa has gained ground in popularity in recent years, it has come under scrutiny also for several scams that have surfaced. The bill would make it easier for foreign students who after graduating wish to stay on in the country by starting a business.