On January 13th, a bipartisan group of six Senators introduced a bill that would not just reform America’s high-skilled immigration system, but would go a long way to helping the American economy and fixing a growing national competitiveness problem. Thanks to the efforts of Senators Orrin Hatch, Amy Klobuchar, Marco Rubio, Chris Coons, Jeff Flake, and Richard Blumenthal, the Immigration Innovation (“I-Squared”) Act of 2015 would improve American companies’ abilities to hire and retain the high-skilled workers needed to compete more effectively in a global market.
This bipartisan bill is the latest edition of a similar bill introduced two years ago. That bill, I-Squared Act of 2013, paved the way for a strong high-skilled section of the comprehensive immigration bill that passed in the Senate in June 2013. What makes the current version of the I-Squared bill so unique is how it addresses the specific needs of high-skilled companies. To fix the shortage of
H-1B visas, the bill would raise the visa cap and tie its future level to actual demand, increasing and decreasing based on the number of applications filed the year before. For employment-based green cards, the bill would implement exemptions and eliminate the per-country limits so all the visas are used in the way they were meant to be: by workers, not spouses and children, who would now be exempt from counting against the cap. Perhaps most importantly, this bill calls for using the new, higher visa fees to create STEM programs for American students. The I-Squared Act of 2015 truly addresses the short and long-term needs for high-skilled, talented individuals as well as for high-tech companies and research-focused universities.
Over the past several years, a comprehensive bill addressing the broader immigration challenges our country faces seemed to be the only available route for immigration reform. While there are still many non-high skilled areas that should be fixed, we should not let those areas delay the important fixes in the I-Squared Act. In the past, foreign workers would do anything to live in the U.S. as they had few other options. This is no longer the case. China, India, South Korea, and many other countries now have the infrastructure, educational system, and the jobs to keep their workers home.
Why would an Indian H-1B holder who is applying for a green card continue working under H-1B conditions for 10+ years when she or he can move back to India or even to Canada where they are welcoming high-skilled workers with open arms? In Canada, his or her spouse would be able to work and the visa holder would even be able to change job status or be promoted without having to go to the back of the green card line. These are the threats foreign born engineers working in the U.S face every day. The options are to lose talent or to move the job outside of the U.S., neither of which helps grow our economy. The “Great Recession” may be over, but the U.S. economy has a lot of ground to regain. Filling high-skilled, highly paid positions should be a priority and the I-Squared Act would help accomplish that.
The I-Squared Act of 2015 is the bill Qualcomm and the U.S. need to continue to drive invention and innovation to stay competitive in a global economy. And to do that we need to continue to attract and retain the best and brightest from around the world. Congress should act quickly to pass this important legislation.