Bill would expand number of H-1B visas

Legislation introduced in the Senate Jan. 25 would increase the number of H-1B visas issued annually to 85,000, plus allow as many as 110,000 more visas if there is employer demand.

The “market-based escalator” mechanism built into the Immigration Innovation Act—also known as I-Squared—could mean a 200% increase in the number of high-skilled foreigners entering the U.S. on H-1B visas. Currently, 65,000 of the visas are issued each year to workers who already have jobs lined up with American employers. H-1B visas are valid for three years.

Tech companies, which employ H-1B holders by the thousands, have pressed for more visas for years.

The I-Squared legislation puts Republican co-sponsors Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah) at odds with President Trump, who has proposed doing away with H-1B visas. He argues that visa holders take high-paying jobs from Americans.

If I-Squared is enacted, an annual H-1B lottery would prioritize foreign applicants who earned advanced degrees from U.S. colleges and universities, as well as bachelor’s degrees in so-called STEM disciplines—science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Hiring for Attitude D

The bill stipulates that employers “may not hire an H–1B nonimmigrant for the purpose and intent of replacing a United States worker with the H–1B non-immigrant.”

The bill would also eliminate an existing per-country limit on Green Card permanent resident visas, something backers claim moves the immigration system to a more market-based footing.

Flake and Hatch have yet to attract Democratic co-sponsors for I-Squared, although some Democratic senators have supported similar legislation in the past. One possible reason: The current acrimonious debate over other immigration issues—citizenship for “Dreamers” who came to the U.S. as children and Trump’s promise to build a southern border wall—has made progress on any kind of visa reform difficult.