Measures in Obama proposal mirror high-skilled immigration legislation

The immigration reform proposal unveiled by President Obama on Tuesday included broad measures that are aimed at attracting skilled foreign entrepreneurs to the United States and allowing graduate students with advanced technical degrees to stay in the country.

Some of the principles in Obama's plan mirror high-skilled immigration legislation being discussed in the Senate, which could boost those bills' chances of being included in comprehensive immigration reform.  

During a speech in Las Vegas, Obama said the immigration reform principles released by a bipartisan group of senators on Monday are similar to the positions he outlined during his campaign. The president said he would only send his proposals to Congress if lawmakers fail to reach a deal.

Obama noted that immigrants helped start prominent American tech companies like Google, Yahoo, Intel and Instagram.

"Right now in one of those classrooms, there's a student wrestling with how to turn their big idea, their Intel or Instagram, into a big business," Obama said during the speech. "We're giving them all the skills they need to figure that out. But then we're going to turn around and tell them to start that business and create those jobs in China or India or Mexico or someplace else."

"That's not how you grow new industries in America. That's how you give new industries to our competitors," he said.

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Obama's plan calls for "stapling" green cards to foreign graduates with a master's degree or Ph.D. in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) disciplines from American universities who have secured a job in the U.S., according to a White House fact sheet. To that end, employers of skilled graduates would be required to pay a fee that will go towards education and training initiatives aimed at preparing U.S. children for careers in technical fields.

This principle in the president's proposal aligns with a high-skilled immigration bill introduced by a bipartisan group of senators on Tuesday.

The bill would exempt certain groups of people from counting towards the employment-based green card cap, such as foreign-born graduates with advanced STEM degrees from American universities. It would also increase the fees that employers would have to pay to petition for H-1B visas and green cards and funnel that additional money to a grant program dedicated to promoting STEM education and training programs.

Obama's plan didn't include specifics about expanding the number of H-1B temporary worker visas available for skilled foreign workers, such as computer programmers and scientists. The new Senate bill, on the other hand, proposes to significantly expand the number of H-1B visas.

The president also called for the creation of a so-called start-up visa that would allow foreign entrepreneurs who secure financing from U.S. investors or generate revenue from American customers to stay in the U.S. and expand their businesses. Those entrepreneurs could have the chance to remain in the U.S. permanently if their business continues to grow and create jobs for American workers.

That proposal is similar to a bill that Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Chris Coons (D-Del.) and a bipartisan group of senators plan to re-introduce in the coming weeks, called the Startup Act 2.0.

Another component in Obama's plan proposes to create a new visa category that would allow a limited number of high-skilled immigrants to work in federal science and technology laboratories on "critical national security needs." Immigrants who have been in the U.S. for two years and successfully pass a "rigorous" series of security and criminal background checks will be able to qualify.