On January 29, 2013, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced Senate Bill 169, The Immigration Innovation Act of 2012 (“I-Squared Act”). The I-Squared Act includes a number of proposals that if enacted will benefit U.S. businesses and highly-educated and skilled foreign workers by easing many of the most common juggernauts in the current system, including the H-1B cap and backlogs in the EB-2 and EB-3 preferences.
The most fundamental change the I-Squared Act proposes would be to the H-1B category, which is available to those seeking employment in professional positions. The I-Squared Act proposes to increase the H-1B cap from 65,000 to 115,000, with the further option of an increase to 300,000 visas annually. The I-Squared Act would also make individuals with a Master’s degree or higher from an U.S. university completely exempt from the H-1B cap. Additionally, dependents of H-1B workers, those currently holding H-4 status, would be eligible to apply for work authorization.
The I-Squared Act proposes changes to the employment based preference system which could reduce, if not eliminate persistent, unbearably long backlogs. The bill proposes exempting the following individuals from the 180,000 numerical cap on employment-based green cards:
- Dependents of employment-based immigrant visa recipients;
- Advanced degree holders (from US universities) in the sciences, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) fields;
- Persons with extraordinary ability;
- Outstanding professors and researchers
Removing these individuals from the quotas would reduce the waiting period for those still subject to limits. Lastly, the Act would abolish the annual per-country limits for employment-based green cards; thus creating an even playing field for all individuals despite their country of origin. This would be especially beneficial for natives of India, China, Mexico, and the Philippines, who must wait years for green cards due to the stong demand from their fellow nationals.
There is no indication yet on how these proposals will fit into the big picture for immigration reform. But whether it is a stand alone bill or included in a comprehensive bill, it will be good news for employers and immigrants who are stuck in our broken system.