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I-Squared Visa Bill Proposes Swift Changes to Skilled Worker Visas

In a fit of productivity, Congress has been hard at work drafting immigration bills!  On Tuesday, January 29, 2013, Senators Hatch (R-UT),  Rubio (R-FL), Klobuchar (D-MN), and Coons (D-DE) introduced the “Immigration Innovation Act of 2013” (aka “I2 Act of 2013”).  The bill focuses specifically on well-educated foreign nationals who wish to live, study, and work in the United States. The bill dedicates four sections to 1) employment-based non-immigrant visas, 2) student visas, 3) employment-based immigrant visas, and 4) STEM education funding.  (Read the short summary here.)  For each section, the bill aims to relieve the congestion of visa quotas foreign nationals currently face and enable smoother dual intent to migrate to the United States permanently for certain foreign nationals.

1.     Employment-Based Non-Immigrant Visas

Naturally, H-1B visas come immediately to mind.  So much so that Google’s SVP of People Operations, Laszlo Bock, even commented on the bill.  In essence, the bill, if approved, would allow for a scaling increase or decrease of H-1B visa quotas based on the economy, a quota of between 65,000 to 115,000 visas.  The sooner the H-1B cap is met, the larger the number of new H-1B visas would be made available. Dependent H-1B spouses would also benefit by being able to apply for work authorization. There is also language to facilitate easier extensions of H and L petitions where no change has occurred between the employer or the foreign national.  [It’s curious how USCIS adjudicators would actually interpret this section in practice….] Finally, the bill would allow for non-immigrant workers to transition from one employer to the next more efficiently, including being able to revalidate their E, H, L, O, and P visas.  From a practical perspective, this will certainly decrease the cost of travel and loss productivity.  Immigration practitioners may want to dust off their old Department of State legal briefs for visa revalidation!

2.     Student Visas

To stem the “brain drain” from leaving the United States (and going to Canada, Brazil, Chile, China or India, for example), this bill would allow students a means to pursue permanent residence in the U.S.  American colleges and universities should be preparing for a influx of foreign student applicants!

3.     Immigrant Visas

Similar to “roll-over” minutes on your cell phone, this bill would allow the recapturing of previously approved but unused immigrant (greencard) visas from previous years to be used in the current year and for any unused visas to “roll-over” to the next fiscal year. To the cheer of many highly-skilled workers, visa quotas for certain employment-based immigrant visas would be lifted:

  • Dependents of employment-based immigrant visa holders
  • U.S. STEM advance degree holders
  • Extraordinary ability persons
  • Outstanding professors and researchers

Perhaps the biggest change would be lifting the visa quota based on per-country limits specifically for employment-based visa petitions.  This means that immigrants to the U.S. employers may sponsor permanent workers without the worry of per-country limits that have traditionally clogged the immigration system.  Our practitioners by now should be in full alarm mode as this section of the bill has the potential to uniformly affect both family and business immigration practices by significantly increasing caseloads.

4.     U.S. STEM Education

The bill’s foresight in funding the future is also evidenced by this last section.  Funds collected from H-1B visas and employment-based immigrant visas would help to fund and promote science, technology, engineering and math education and retrain workers in the United States. Whether this bill survives Congressional review, it will certainly leave its mark on what will soon be a Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) package- one way or another!


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