Increased numbers of new H-1B work visas, no immigrant visa quota limits for certain employment-based visa categories, work authorization for H-4 spouses, and a longer grace period to depart the United States or seek other visa status after termination for H-1B and L-1 employees are among the key components of the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013 introduced on January 29, 2013.

This bipartisan immigration bill (S. 169) aims at increasing United States competitiveness in the global economy. U.S. Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) are the sponsors. The bill proposes reforms targeting the retention of foreign students educated at U.S. colleges and universities, the portability of highly skilled foreign workers between U.S. employers, and enabling a smoother transition to permanent residence for certain qualified workers.

Limits on New H-1Bs Increased

The legislation would increase the annual number of new H-1B visas from 65,000 to 115,000. Further, the number available would incrementally increase in future years up to a ceiling of 300,000, as dictated by the demands of the economy during the previous fiscal year.

U.S. employers interested in learning more about the current H-1B visa cap and the looming April 1 filing date for new H-1B petitions, can read about it in our prior Alert here.

No Limits on Certain New H-1Bs

There would be no limit on the number of new H-1B visas for graduates of U.S. Master's or higher programs, an increase from the current allowance of 20,000 per year.

No Limits on Certain Employment Immigration

Current numerical limits on the number of immigrant visas granted annual would be eliminated for certain categories including aliens of extraordinary ability, outstanding professors and researchers, U.S. STEM advanced degree holders, and dependents of employment-based immigrants.

Changes to Limits on Other Employment Immigration

Other employment-based immigrant visa categories would remain subject to numerical limits, but the per-country limits would be removed. This proposal might reduce the current lengthy waiting times for those born in India and China, while at the same time increasing the waiting times for the rest of the world.

Work Authorization for H-4 Spouses

The proposed bill would provide H-4 spouses with work authorization, as is currently available to E-1, E-2 and L-2 spouses.

60-Day Grace Period After Termination

The bill would provide increased portability of highly-skilled foreign workers by implementing a 60-day grace period for H-1B and L-1 employees when employment with the sponsoring employer terminates, provided a new employer files a petition on behalf of the foreign worker during that period.

Increased USCIS Processing Consistencies

To address concerns of processing inconsistencies by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the bill would mandate significant deference to prior H-1B and L-1 approvals. The USCIS would be prohibited from denying an extension petition involving a single employee and the same employer absent (i) material error, (ii) substantial change of circumstances, or (iii) new material information impacting eligibility, since the prior approval.

Visa Revalidation Reintroduced

The bill also proposes elimination of impediments to foreign worker mobility by reinstating visa revalidation. This legislation would reinstate the pre-9/11 practice of allowing foreign nationals admitted in the E, H, L, O, and P nonimmigrant categories to renew their visas from inside the United States, thus eliminating the need to travel to American consular posts abroad to obtain a new visa stamp.

The Immigration Innovation Act of 2013

The proposed legislation, if enacted, will provide employers with increased options when seeking to employ and retain certain highly skilled foreign workers. We will continue to track and report on the progress of this and other pieces of immigration-related legislation expected to be introduced in the next few weeks.

The full text of the Immigration Act of 2013 can be found here.