Hatch, Flake introduce merit-based, high-skilled immigration bill for the 21st century

U.S. Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) introduced the Immigration Innovation (“I-Squared”) Act of 2018 to bring long-overdue reforms to our nation’s merit-based immigration laws for high-skilled workers.

The bill focuses on areas vital to maintaining the United States’ competitiveness in the global economy: the availability of employment-based nonimmigrant visas (H-1B visas) for industries in which there is a shortage of American labor; reforms to the H-1B program to reduce fraud and help protect workers; increased access to green cards for high-skilled workers; and directing fees collected for H-1B visas and green cards to promoting STEM worker training and education. Previous versions of the bill were introduced in the last two Congresses.

“Now more than ever, we need highly qualified workers with the skills employers need to succeed in the information economy,” Hatch said. “As I’ve long said, high-skilled immigration is merit-based immigration, and we need a high-skilled immigration system that works. The Immigration Innovation Act will help ensure that our companies have access to the world’s best and brightest and are able to fill jobs in highly technical, specialized fields for which there is a shortage of American labor. At the same time, it addresses abuses in the H-1B visa program to ensure the program is not used to outsource jobs or undercut American wages. And it provides nearly $1 billion in new funding for STEM education and worker training programs through increases in visa fees. This bill is a win for all sides.”

“The reforms included in the I-Squared Act are critical to fixing a broken U.S. immigration system that has been unable to keep up with the needs of American employers,” Flake said. “Taking these steps to foster a vibrant economy for homegrown and foreign entrepreneurs, increase access to the high-skilled talent that U.S. businesses depend on, and attract the best students in the world to U.S. universities will help ensure the United States remains a leader in innovation and global competition.” 

Statements of Support

Brad Smith, President of Microsoft:

“The tech sector’s lifeblood is our employees. Our future – and the competitiveness of the entire US tech sector – requires that we recruit some of the best and brightest in the world so they can work closely with employees born and raised in the United States. But our immigration system is broken,” said Brad Smith, president of Microsoft. “The Senators’ proposed I-Squared Act is an important step in protecting US workers, investing in STEM education, and ensuring that we can recruit people to fill jobs here in the US.”

Erin Egan, VP of US Public Policy, Facebook:

“Facebook is pleased to support the Immigration Innovation Act (I-Squared). This important legislation will modernize the H1-B visa and green card programs while also encouraging increased STEM education in the US to train the next generation of US workers in high-growth fields. We appreciate the leadership of Senators Hatch and Flake on this critical issue, and we look forward to working to ensure its passage into law.”

Michael Beckerman, President & CEO of the Internet Association:

“The internet industry supports the Immigration Innovation Act. One of the biggest economic challenges facing our nation is the need for qualified, highly skilled professionals, domestic and foreign, who can create jobs and immediately contribute to and improve our economy. This legislation will invest in our country’s competitiveness by providing high-skilled foreign workers and people trained in the U.S. the opportunity to stay in the U.S. to help our economy grow. It also promotes American ingenuity by providing additional funding for STEM education. The internet industry commends Sen. Hatch for advancing this important legislation.” 

Victoria Espinel, President and CEO of BSA, The Software Alliance: 
“I-Squared strikes the ideal balance between encouraging high-skilled immigration and bolstering the American workforce. The tech industry – and all sectors of our economy – are made stronger by the contributions of immigrants. Expanding H-1B visas to attract more high-skilled workers will help US companies succeed and create new jobs. At the same time, the bill’s provision for STEM education and STEM worker training will increase the skills of our own workforce and prepare us for the jobs of tomorrow.”

John Neuffer, President and CEO of the Semiconductor Industry Association:

“Fixing our broken high skilled immigration system is a top priority for the U.S. semiconductor industry, America’s fourth-largest exporter. Our member companies must be able to recruit and retain the best and brightest, regardless of where they were born, to ensure the U.S. semiconductor industry maintains and strengthens its global leadership position. The I-Squared Act of 2018 is a much-needed step toward improving semiconductor companies’ access to talent and boosting America’s economic strength. We urge Congress to approve it.”

Dean Garfield, President and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council:

“I-Squared is an opportunity to do the right thing for all the right reasons.  There is consensus that reforms to fix the nation’s immigration laws for high-skilled workers are long overdue. The commonsense I-Squared Act will allow employers to recruit and retain the best and brightest and fuel America’s leadership in technology and innovation. This bill’s market-driven approach will help meet the needs of our economy, drive new investment, and bolster the tech industry’s commitment to growing the domestic workforce.”

Mark MacCarthy, Senior Vice President for Public Policy of the Software & Information Industry Association:

“The U.S. IT industry—and the American economy more broadly—has long benefited from the contributions of  highly-educated workers, regardless of where they were born.  The I-Squared Act will make critical reforms to the U.S. immigration laws to help U.S. companies attract and retain the best and most innovative employees from around the world. This bill will greatly enable continued U.S. innovation, job creation, and economic expansion, while preventing abuses of the H-1B program that could harm U.S. workers.  The legislation also promotes the American education system by funding state grants to promote STEM education and training in the U.S. SIIA thanks Senators Hatch and Flake for co-sponsoring the I-Squared Act, and we look forward to working with them and other congressional leaders to enact this critical legislation.”

Scott Corley, Executive Director of Compete America:

“I-Squared is a smart and balanced approach to continued job creation and prosperity in America,” said Scott Corley, executive director of Compete America. “Our immigration system can and should help fund the education and training of our American STEM workforce, while also protecting American workers from displacement by nonimmigrant visa holders. I-Squared proves we can do all of this while also ensuring U.S. employers can hire the qualified workforce they need to continue our nation’s unprecedented success as the global leader in innovation.”

Lynn Shotwell, Executive Director, Council for Global Immigration:

“This legislation would ensure that employers acting in good faith have access to the top global talent they need to compete, while providing additional investments to train and educate U.S. workers in high-demand STEM fields, while also reforming the H-1B program with enhanced protections for U.S. workers, an important change that CFGI supports.”

Mike Aitken, Vice President, Government Affairs, Society for Human Resource Management:

“This legislation addresses many of the serious challenges facing employers navigating the current maze of immigration laws and regulations, including eliminating green card backlogs and modernizing the H-1B visa system. These reforms are a critical component to building and supporting a 21st century workplace in which employers and our workforce can thrive.”

Neil Bradley, Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer, U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is thankful to Senators Hatch and Flake for introducing the Immigration Innovation Act of 2018.  The bill would vastly improve high-skilled immigration to the U.S. by establishing market-based H-1B quotas and instituting various reforms to our employment-based immigrant visa system that would make our nation’s immigration system more merit-based.  While this proposal contains new provisions that the Chamber will need to work through with its members, we look forward to addressing those issues with the senators as this legislation moves forward.”

Immigration Innovation (“I-Squared”) Act of 2017

Employment-Based Nonimmigrant Visas (H–1B Visas)

  • U.S. advanced degrees: Uncaps the existing exemption (currently 20,000) for holders of U.S. master’s degrees or higher from the annual numerical limitation on H–1B visas for individuals who are being sponsored for or who will be sponsored for a green card. 

  • Statutory cap: Increases the annual base allocation of H–1B visas from 65,000 to 85,000. 

  • Market escalator: Creates a market-based escalator to allow the supply of H–1B visas to meet demand. Under the escalator, up to 110,000 additional H–1B visas (for a total of 195,000) may be granted in a fiscal year if certain demand requirements are met. 

  • Lottery prioritization: Prioritizes adjudication of cap-subject H–1B visa petitions for holders of U.S. master’s degrees or higher, holders of foreign Ph.D.’s, and holders of U.S. STEM bachelor degrees. 

  • Hoarding penalties: Subjects employers who fail to employ an H–1B worker for more than 3 months during the individual’s first year of work authorization to a penalty. 

  • Prohibitions on replacement: Prohibits employers from hiring an H–1B visa holder with the purpose and intent to replace a U.S. worker. 

  • Work authorization for H–1B spouses and children: Provides work authorization for spouses and dependent children of H–1B visa holders. 

  • Worker mobility: Increases H–1B worker mobility by establishing a grace period during which H–1B visa holders can change jobs without losing legal status. 

  • Dependent employers: Updates 1998 law exempting H–1B dependent employers from certain recruitment and nondisplacement requirements. Raises from $60,000 to $100,000 the H–1B salary level at which the salary-based exemption takes effect. Narrows education-based exemption to H–1B hires with a U.S. Ph.D. Eliminates exemptions for “super-dependent” employers altogether.

Green Cards

  • Per-country numerical limits: Eliminates annual per-country limit for employment-based green cards and adjusts per-country caps for family-based green cards. 

  • Green card recapture: Enables the recapture of green card numbers that were approved by Congress in previous years but not used. 

  • Exemptions from green card cap: Exempts spouses and children of employment-based green card holders, holders of U.S. STEM master’s degrees or higher, and certain individuals with extraordinary ability in the arts and sciences from worldwide numerical caps on employment-based green cards. 

  • Worker mobility: Increases worker mobility for individuals on the path to a green card by enabling such individuals to change jobs earlier in the process without losing their place in the green card line.
  • Employmentbased conditional green cards: Creates new conditional green card category to allow U.S. employers to sponsor university-educated foreign professionals through a separate path from H–1B.

Student Visas 

  • Dual intent: Enables F–1 student visa holders to seek permanent resident status while a student or during Optional Practical Training (OPT).

STEM Education and Worker Training

  • Promoting American Ingenuity Account: Increases fees for H–1B visas and employment-based green cards and directs fees toward state-administered grants to promote STEM education and worker training.