Hatch bill would dramatically increase H-1B visas

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchGinsburg attends Medal of Freedom ceremony amid recovery from fall Utah New Members 2019 Congress braces for high-drama lame duck MORE (R-Utah) plans to release legislation on Thursday that would expand high skilled immigration visas and allow the spouses and children of such visa holders to legally work in the U.S.

According to the text of the bill obtained by The Hill, Hatch’s Immigration Innovation (or I-Squared) Act would increase the cap on H-1B high skilled immigration visas from 65,000 to 85,000 a year and expand the number of visas allocated to meet demand up to 195,000.

The bill would also scrap the per-country cap on employment-based green cards.

The bill, if it became law, would also create a legislative provision to allow the dependents of H-1B visa holders to legally work in the U.S. with H-4 visas. The Department of Homeland Security has signaled that it is considering scrapping this program, to the dismay of the technology industry, which has vocally supported the visa.

The visa increases don’t come without caveats. In an attempt to win over President TrumpDonald John TrumpMia Love pulls ahead in Utah race as judge dismisses her lawsuit Trump administration denies exploring extradition of Erdoğan foe for Turkey Trump congratulates Kemp, says Abrams will have 'terrific political future' MORE and other Republicans wary of increased immigration, the bill would make sure that holders of U.S. master’s degrees or higher, foreign Ph.D.’s and U.S. STEM bachelor degrees are prioritized in the lottery process.

Hatch’s spokesperson Matt Whitlock stressed that in the senator's eyes, “high-skilled immigration is merit-based immigration.”

Additionally, the bill includes specific language to ensure an “employer may not hire an H–1B  nonimmigrant for the purpose and intent of replacing a United States worker with the H–1B non-immigrant,” according to its text.

Hatch is confident that the bill will garner support in Congress.

“This bill has consistently received broad support, and Senator Hatch believes that in the current political environment this effort represents an ideal first step in bringing Republicans and Democrats together to address flaws in our broken immigration system,” Whitlock said.

Previous attempts at passing Hatch's bill were not successful. Congress has struggled to pass immigration reform in the past, and the issue is complicated even further as Democrats dig their heels in on passing DACA legislation that would allow almost 800,000 Dreamers to stay in the U.S.

This has complicated Hatch’s efforts to find a Democratic co-sponsor to make the bill bipartisan.

Two sources with knowledge of the matter confirmed that Hatch had expected Democrat Sen. Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsHillicon Valley: Facebook reeling after NYT report | Dems want DOJ probe | HQ2 brings new scrutiny on Amazon | Judge upholds Russian troll farm indictments | Cyber moonshot panel unveils recommendations Senators introduce Trump-backed criminal justice bill Dems press Justice Department to probe Facebook over political attacks MORE (D-Del.) to cosponsor the bill. They said that the Delaware Democrat was loosely involved in the drafting process of the I-Squared and has cosponsored previous versions of the legislation in past years.

It’s unclear why Coons dropped out, but observers believe it's because of Democrats’ focus on DACA as the top priority for immigration reform.

While it remains to be seen if Hatch’s bill will catch momentum, the technology industry is supportive of the bill.

“I-Squared is an opportunity to do the right thing for all the right reasons.,” said Dean Garfield, President of the Information Technology Industry Council, a trade association which lobbies on behalf of major technology firms like Microsoft, Apple and Google.  

“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.”