On January 29, 2013 Senator Orrin Hatch (R–UT) introduced Senate Bill 169, The Immigration Innovation Act of 2013 (“I-Squared Act”). This bill has a number of aspects that would greatly benefit U.S. businesses and highly educated foreign workers.

The most significant change would be to the H-1B program, the visa category available to individuals seeking to work in professional positions in the United States. Specifically, the H-1B “cap” would be increased from the current 65,000 to 115,000, with the possibility of an increase to up to 300,000 annual visas should demand so require. Moreover, while current law exempts 20,000 H-1B numbers from the H-1B cap for individuals possessing a master’s degree or higher from a U.S. university, the I-Squared Act would make all such individuals completely exempt from the H-1B cap. Additionally, spouses of H-1B workers would be eligible for work authorization, something that is not permitted under current law.  

In addition to allowing for more H-1B workers, the I-Squared Act would greatly increase the number of immigrant visas (“green cards”) available to foreign workers. Current law limits the number of employment-based green cards that can be issued in a year to 140,000, and more than 140,000 individuals apply for green cards each year, so backlogs have developed. Under the proposed bill (1) dependents of employment-based immigrant visa recipients, (2) U.S. advance degree holders in the sciences, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM), (3) persons with extraordinary ability, and (4) outstanding professors and researchers would all be exempted from the numerical caps on green cards. Not only would these individuals benefit by not having to wait in line for a green card, exempting them from the line will serve to dramatically reduce the waiting period for those still subject to limits. Further, current law prevents any one country from utilizing more than 7% of the available green cards, which is effectively an additional cap on green card availability for natives of India, China, Mexico, and the Philippines. The I-Squared Act would eliminate annual per-country limits for employment-based green cards, placing natives of all countries on equal footing.

All together, these proposals would significantly increase the ability of U.S. employers to attract and retain highly skilled and educated foreign workers.