A bipartisan Senate immigration plan could double the number of visas granted for high-skilled foreign workers, a victory for the tech industry, which has pushed for the reforms.
The number of H-1B visas would double from a current limit of 65,000 per year, according to a report Thursday in The Washington Post. The immigration plan would also grant permanent legal residency to foreign students who graduate from American universities with science, engineering or technology degrees.
The talks on high-skilled-worker visas are just one element of a comprehensive immigration reform plan being finalized by the Senate’s bipartisan Gang of Eight.
The group unveiled a framework calling for heightened border security, a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the country and the creation of a guest worker program and increased high-skilled immigration in January. But negotiations over the details of that plan have delayed senators from offering a bill, though sources say they expect draft language by the end of March.
On the House side, another bipartisan group is also nearing a deal, with leaders from both parties endorsing the efforts.
Major tech companies have made a strong push for Washington to revamp immigration rules for high-skilled workers.
Last week, in a letter to President Obama and lawmakers, a number of high-profile CEOs, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, said that being able to hire more high-skilled workers and retain foreign students enrolled in U.S. schools is key to keeping American companies globally competitive. Tech companies fear that American schools are failing to produce enough graduates with advanced science and engineering degrees.
Two Senate bills would expand the H-1B visa program. In January, Sens. Chris CoonsChris CoonsJudiciary Dems seek hearing on voting rights Investments in research and development are investments in American jobs House clears trade secrets bill for Obama's signature MORE (D-Del.), Orrin HatchOrrin HatchInversion rule: latest example of government overreach Supreme Court wrestles with corruption law IRS: Annual unpaid tax liability was 8B MORE (R-Utah), Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharLobbying World Dem senators: Slash executive pay at pension plans seeking benefit cuts Judiciary Dems seek hearing on voting rights MORE (D-Minn.) and Marco RubioMarco RubioHow Trump did it Ten third-party candidate names at top of Never Trump’s list Trump lands Calif. lawmaker endorsement MORE (R-Fla.) introduced the Immigration Innovation Act, which would increase the number of visas to 115,000.
The measure would also allow greater flexibility, by allowing for additional visas to be granted up to a limit of 300,000 if the initial cap is surpassed.
The Startup Act, introduced by Sen. Jerry MoranJerry MoranHigher education involvement benefits unmanned aircraft systems safety and innovation Overnight Finance: McConnell fast-tracks IRS bills; WH pushes free college tuition The Trail 2016: New Trump same as the old MORE (R-Kan.), addressed the issue by creating a new visa that would allow foreign science and tech graduates of U.S. universities to apply for a green card.
Proponents of increased high-skilled immigration, however, believe the best change for reforming the H-1B laws is through a comprehensive package.