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Immigration Innovation Act Would Implement Much-Needed Visa Reforms

January 23, 2015

Ripon College lab
​Photo courtesy of Ripon College

 

​A bipartisan group of senators have introduced a visa reform bill—the Immigration Innovation ("I-Squared") Act—designed to expand the ability of high-skilled workers to live and work in the United States.

Fourteen higher education association leaders, including ACE President Molly Corbett Broad, sent a letter of support yesterday to the bill’s sponsors, calling the measure “critical to our nation’s economy and global competitiveness.”

Introduced by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Chris Coons (D-DE), Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), the bill includes the following provisions that will impact students and campuses:

  • Increasing the cap on the number of H-1B visas from 65,000 to 115,000, allowing it to reach 195,000 in years of high demand;
  • Allowing foreign students studying for a bachelor’s degree or above to also pursue a path to permanent residency with employer sponsorship;
  • Exempting U.S. STEM advanced degree holders and outstanding professors and researchers from the employment-based green card cap; and
  • Reforming fees on H-1B visas and employment-based green cards and directing the revenue to fund a grant program to promote STEM education and worker retraining to be administered by the states.

Notably, the legislation defines STEM through the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) STEM list, which ACE and the groups endorsing the letter strongly support. The DHS list includes important fields that have sometimes been excluded in other immigration reform bills, such as agricultural and natural resource sciences.

While the focus of this bill enjoys bipartisan support, it is not clear at this point what the timeline is in the Senate and how it will be received in the House.

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