Bill to increase H-1B visas, remove country caps on Green Cards, EAD for H-4 introduced in Senate by Hatch, Flake

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NEW YORK: Senators Orrin Hatch and Jeff Flake have introduced an immigration reform bill to increase the annual H-1B via quota from the current 65,000 to 85,000, remove the country cap on Green Cards to help skilled workers from India and China get permanent residency sooner, remove the cap on the annual quota of 20,000 visas for students on F-1 visa, and give work permit or Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to H-4 visa holders.

The Immigration Innovation (“I-Squared”) Act of 2018, introduced on Thursday, aims to bring “long-overdue reforms to our nation’s merit-based immigration laws for high-skilled workers,” Hatch said in a statement.

Hatch and Flake’s bill wants to introduce a “market-based escalator” to grant H-1B visas, with a provision of up to 195,000 visas granted annually. Foreign students who graduate from accredited universities in the US with STEM majors or those with master’s degrees or higher will also get priority when it comes to an H-1B visa, according to the proposals in the bill.

Hatch said the immigration bill focuses on four areas vital to maintaining the US competitiveness in the global economy: H-1B visas for business that face shortage of American labor; reforms to the H-1B program to reduce fraud and help protect workers; increased access to green cards for high-skilled workers and directing fees collected for H-1B visas and green cards to promoting STEM worker training and education.

A highlight of the bill is also to remove the per country quota for green cards, which will benefit Indian nationals the most, and has been on the cards for a while, with bipartisan support for it.

The bill by Hatch and Flake also seeks to remove the 20,000 annual visa limit for F-1 visa holders who graduate with a master’s degree or higher if an employer is willing to sponsor for a green cards.

“Now more than ever, we need highly qualified workers with the skills employers need to succeed in the information economy,” said Hatch.

Flake said that the proposals in the bill would help a “broken U.S. 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 U.S. businesses depend on, and attract the best students in the world to U.S. universities will help ensure the United States remains a leader in innovation and global competition,” said Flake.

The bill also interestingly proposes work authorizations for H4 visa holders which would draw the ire of the White House. The Trump administration has said it will eliminate the EAD to H4 visa holders, and that ruling is likely to come into effect as early as April of this year.

Key features of the Immigration Innovation (“I-Squared”) Act of 2017, according to Hatch’s website:

H-1B Visas

*Advanced degrees: Uncaps the existing exemption (currently 20,000) for holders of U.S. master’s degrees or higher from the annual numerical limitation on H–1B visas for individuals who are being sponsored for or who will be sponsored for a green card.

*Statutory cap: Increases the annual base allocation of H–1B visas from 65,000 to 85,000.

*Market escalator: Creates a market-based escalator to allow the supply of H–1B visas to meet demand. Under the escalator, up to 110,000 additional H–1B visas (for a total of 195,000) may be granted in a fiscal year if certain demand requirements are met.

*Lottery prioritization: Prioritizes adjudication of cap-subject H–1B visa petitions for holders of U.S. master’s degrees or higher, holders of foreign Ph.D.’s, and holders of U.S. STEM bachelor degrees.

*Hoarding penalties: Subjects employers who fail to employ an H–1B worker for more than 3 months during the individual’s first year of work authorization to a penalty.

*Prohibitions on replacement: Prohibits employers from hiring an H–1B visa holder with the purpose and intent to replace a U.S. worker.

*Work authorization for H–1B spouses and children: Provides work authorization for spouses and dependent children of H–1B visa holders.

*Worker mobility: Increases H–1B worker mobility by establishing a grace period during which H–1B visa holders can change jobs without losing legal status.

*Dependent employers: Updates 1998 law exempting H–1B dependent employers from certain recruitment and nondisplacement requirements. Raises from $60,000 to $100,000 the H–1B salary level at which the salary-based exemption takes effect. Narrows education-based exemption to H–1B hires with a U.S. Ph.D. Eliminates exemptions for “super-dependent” employers altogether.

Green Cards

*Per-country numerical limits: Eliminates annual per-country limit for employment-based green cards and adjusts per-country caps for family-based green cards.

*Green card recapture: Enables the recapture of green card numbers that were approved by Congress in previous years but not used.

*Exemptions from green card cap: Exempts spouses and children of employment-based green card holders, holders of U.S. STEM master’s degrees or higher, and certain individuals with extraordinary ability in the arts and sciences from worldwide numerical caps on employment-based green cards.

*Worker mobility: Increases worker mobility for individuals on the path to a green card by enabling such individuals to change jobs earlier in the process without losing their place in the green card line.

*Employment–based conditional green cards: Creates new conditional green card category to allow U.S. employers to sponsor university-educated foreign professionals through a separate path from H–1B.

Student Visas

*Dual intent: Enables F–1 student visa holders to seek permanent resident status while a student or during Optional Practical Training (OPT).

*STEM Education and Worker Training

*Promoting American Ingenuity Account: Increases fees for H–1B visas and employment-based green cards and directs fees toward state-administered grants to promote STEM education and worker training.

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