On 13 January 2015 a bill entitled ‘Immigration Innovation Act of 2015’ was introduced to the Senate. The Bill distinguishes itself from the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill, as it focuses principally on the issue of reforming high skilled immigration. As such it represents a rarely seen union of thought from both chambers of Congress on the issue of immigration reform.

Under the current system, the most common routes for high-skilled immigrants and immigrant entrepreneurs to come to the US include: H-1B visas for “specialty occupations”, L-1 visas for “intracompany transferees”, O-1A visas for individuals with “sustained national or international acclaim” in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics, and E-2 visas for treaty investors. However, U.S. businesses and advocacy groups have been asserting for years that US immigration law is detached from the demands of the US economy, and that US businesses are being prevented from recruiting and retaining the very best entrepreneurial talent from around the world.

The Immigration Innovation Act of 2015 offers the most detailed look at what employment-based immigration reform might look like in the near future. The major parts of the Bill include:

  • H-1B Visas: Increasing the H-1B cap from 65,000 to 115,000 to better accommodate market demands; eliminating the existing US advanced degree exemption cap of 20,000; authorising employment for all dependent spouses of H-1B visa holders (removing the current limitation to spouses of H-1B visa holders being sponsored by their employers for green cards) and establishing a grace period during which foreign workers can change jobs and not be out of status;
  • Student Visas: Withdrawal of the requirement that foreign students prove they intend to return to their home countries upon completion of their studies;
  • Green Cards: Exemption from the employment-based green card cap for the following categories: dependents of employment-based immigrant visa recipients; US STEM advanced degree holders; persons with extraordinary ability and outstanding professors and researchers. Elimination of per-country limits for employment-based visa petitions and adjustment of per-country caps for family-based immigrant visas; and
  • US STEM Education & Worker Retraining Imitative: Establishing a grant program to promote STEM education and worker retraining, using funds from fees for H-1B visa petitions and employment based green card petitions.

On the whole the proposals set out in the Bill, if enacted, will significantly improve the ability of US businesses to employ and retain the most highly-skilled and educated foreign workers. However, it remains to be seen whether enacting separate immigration legislation that focuses only on skilled immigration is within the capabilities of the current Congress.

Article by Magrath LLP