Adding to ongoing political momentum for immigration reform, four senators introduced a bill Tuesday that would expand the number of skilled foreign workers that American companies can hire.

The U.S. government awards about 65,000 temporary H1-B visas annually to computer programmers, nurses and other skilled workers sponsored by American employers. The new bill would increase the annual cap to 115,000 H-1B visas and also make available more permanent residency visas to the highly skilled and highly educated.

Sponsored by U.S. Senators Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Marco Rubio, R-Fla. and Chris Coons, D-Del., the bill was introduced on the same day President Barack Obama is scheduled to outline his broad plan for immigration reform in a Las Vegas speech.

The skilled worker bill also came a day after Rubio and seven other senators announced a bipartisan agreement on broader reforms, and it is likely to be used as a bargaining chip that could be folded into a larger bill.

Sen. Hatch's office released the following summary of the "Immigration Innovation Act of 2013."

Employment-Based Nonimmigrant H-1B Visas

Increase H-1B cap from 65,000 to 115,000

Establish a market-based H-1B escalator, so that the cap can adjust — up or down — to the demands of the economy (includes a 300,000 ceiling on the ability of the escalator to move)

If the cap is hit in the first 45 days when petitions may be filed, an additional 20,000 H-1B visas will be made available immediately.


Advertisement

If the cap is hit in the first 60 days when petitions may be filed, an additional 15,000 H-1B visas will be made available immediately.

If the cap is hit in the first 90 days when petitions may be filed, an additional 10,000 H-1B visas will be made available immediately.

If the cap is hit during the 185-day period ending on the 275th day on which petitions may be filed, and additional 5,000 H-1B will be made available immediately.

Uncap the existing U.S. advanced degree exemption (currently limited to 20,000 per year). Authorize employment for dependent spouses of H-1B visa holders

Increase portability of high skilled foreign workers by:

Removing impediments and costs of changing employers;

Establishing a clear transition period for foreign workers as they change jobs; and,

Restoring visa revalidation for E, H, L, O, and P nonimmigrant visa categories

Student Visas

Allow dual intent for foreign students at U.S. colleges and universities to provide the certainty they need to ensure their future in the United States

Immigrant Visas and Green Cards

Enable the recapture of green card numbers that were approved by Congress in previous years but were not used

Exempt certain categories of persons from the employment-based green card cap:

Dependents of employment-based immigrant visa recipients

U.S. STEM advance degree holders

Persons with extraordinary ability

Outstanding professors and researchers

Provide for the roll-over of unused employment-based immigrant visa numbers to the following fiscal year so future visas are not lost due to bureaucratic delays

Eliminate annual per-country limits for employment based visa petitioners and adjust per-country caps for family-based immigrant visas

U.S. STEM Education & Worker Retraining Initiative

Reform fees on H-1B visas and employment-based green cards; use money from these fees to fund a grant program to promote STEM education and worker retraining to be administered by the states