Immigration Bill: What’s up on Capitol Hill?

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Washington, DC – After weeks of closed-door deliberations, the “Gang of Eight” senators have presented their immigration bill, formally the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013. The bipartisan group consists of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D- NY), Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO).

With respect to high-skill immigration, it provides for:

•A higher quota for H-1B visas, raising the current base cap from 65,000 to 110,000. The new bill proposes that the cap can eventually increase to 180,000 based on a formula that includes whether the cap is met each year and the number of unemployed high-skilled workers.

•An alteration of the 20,000 person exemption of H-1B visas reserved for US advanced degree holders to a 25,000 person exemption for US advanced degree graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

•The creation of a start-up visa, providing entry to foreign entrepreneurs who create at least five jobs, raise at least $500,000 in investments, and have annual revenue of at least $750,000.

Indian immigrants are likely to be most affected by high-skilled immigration legislation. A number of congressmen have drawn attention to this issue, introducing numerous bills, over 25 bills in the 112th Congress, regarding immigrants with advanced degrees. Among the most prominent bills introduced in the past six months:

•On January 29, 2013, Senators Christopher Coons (D- DE.), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced The Immigration Innovation Act of 2013, or the I-Squared Act.

The bill focuses on increasing the H-1B visa cap and granting visas and green cards for foreign students studying STEM fields in the United States.

•On the following day, Senators Mark Udall (D-CO), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), introduced the Startup Visa Act of 2013 to provide visas to immigrant entrepreneurs.

•A similar bill, the Startup Act 3.0, was introduced both in the Senate and the House on February 13 and 14, 2013, respectively. Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), one of bill’s sponsors, commented “America has long been seen as the land of opportunity for innovators and entrepreneurs. I fear those days are coming to an end.” Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Chris Coons (D-DE), and Roy Blunt (R-MO) also presented the bill in the Senate.

•The House bill was introduced by Representative Michael Grimm and nine cosponsors. Both bills in the Senate and House propose granting 75,000 visas for immigrant entrepreneurs. Other provisions include increasing the number of H-1B visas and revising per country limits.

•In November 2012, The STEM Jobs Act, passed in the House with a vote of 245-139, but stalled in the Senate. Introduced by Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the STEM Jobs Act had 68 cosponsors, including Representative Peter Roskam and Representative Edward Royce. The Act proposed to grant as many as 55,000 worker visas for foreign students gaining their M.A.s and Ph.Ds. in the United States and to end the Diversity Visa, or “green card lottery.”

Democrats and Republicans alike acknowledge the benefits of attracting and retaining highly skilled immigrants. Each bill that offers different options to loosen restrictions and provide more opportunities on high skilled workers, in turn presents a path to economic prosperity in the United States.

© 2013 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved. 

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