Bill To Increase H-1B Visa Makes A Comeback In Congress

The bill looks to create a new visa category -- the F-1 -- for foreign students looking to pursue a bachelor's or advanced degree.

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee, Senior Writer, InformationWeek

April 19, 2007

4 Min Read

It's back. The SKIL bill -- which was introduced into the U.S. Senate last year and focused on raising the H-1B visa cap and reforming green card limits -- has been reintroduced into the Senate and House of Representatives.

On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., introduced in the House the "Securing Knowledge Innovation and Leadership," or SKIL bill. The legislation is identical to a bill that was reintroduced last week into the Senate by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who also introduced that bill last year during the last congressional session.

The bill features similar proposals that have been part of larger comprehensive immigration reform packages. However, unlike those other bills that also address border security and lower-skill worker issues, the SKIL bill zeroes in on making changes to H-1B and green card caps. H-1B visas are the most common visas used by employers to bring foreign technology workers into the United States for stints lasting up to six years.

Among the SKIL bill's proposals are raising the annual H-1B cap from 65,000 today to 115,000, with the ability to automatically increase the cap in subsequent years by 20%, or up to 180,000. The bill also proposes applying the current 20,000 cap exemption to those with a master's degree or higher from an institution of higher education in a foreign country, not just for those foreigners who have advanced degrees from U.S. schools.

The bill also looks to create a new visa category -- the F-1 -- for foreign students looking to pursue a bachelor's or advanced degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics from a U.S. school.

As for changes to "employment-based visas," or green cards, the bill proposes raising the limit from 140,000 to 290,000 per year.

"I do not underestimate Congress' willingness to flood the U.S. market with labor, regardless of available Americans who need the jobs, [and] to drive down wages," said Kim Berry, president of IT professional advocacy group the Programmers Guild, in an e-mail interview with InformationWeek.

Berry said he's opposed to any legislation that proposes raising the visa cap rather than reforming current rules regarding H-1B hiring.

In fact, earlier this month, a bipartisan bill introduced into the Senate by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., aims to reform the rules involved with H-1B hiring, including requiring all employers to "pledge" that they've made a "good faith" effort to fill those jobs with American workers. That's something that's now only required of companies with 15% of more of their employees on H-1B.

The bill also gives the Department of Labor more authority to investigate abuses.

"I find it unconscionable that every congressman is not yet on board with the basic protections in the Durbin/Grassley bill, and why those protections are no amended into any bill that would raise the H-1B cap," said Berry.

Storme Street, VP of government relations for Electronic Industries Alliance, said that while her industry organization supports the SKIL bill, it's unlikely a standalone bill to raise the H-1B visa cap -- or even the Grassley-Durbin bill to reform H-1B rules -- will get passed. "The Democrats and Republicans have made it clear that they want comprehensive immigration reform" and will not pass smaller bills that address only slices of issues. Still, senators and House members continue to introduce these standalone bills to "make the point to their constituencies what they hope will happen."

In addition to the reintroduction of the SKIL bill, another new bill, "The High Tech Worker Relief Act," sponsored by Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., was also introduced this month into the Senate with similar proposes to increase the H-1B cap.

Earlier this month, the U.S. government, after only two days, stopped accepting H-1B visa petitions for fiscal 2008. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said it received a total of 123,480 petitions for the 65,000 visas that will be issued by the State Department for fiscal 2008, starting on Oct. 1. That's the fastest the H-1B visa application period has ever closed.

This story was updated on April 19 to include additional statistics from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

About the Author(s)

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee

Senior Writer, InformationWeek

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee is a former editor for InformationWeek.

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