On January 28, 2013, eight senators introduced a bi-partisan framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR). Many of the items of the framework are similar to the CIR provisions which were introduced in 2007 that ultimately did not pass Congress. However, after the 2012 presidential elections, many advocates believe that the chances of passage of CIR are now greatly increased. According to the eight senators, the four basic legislative pillars of CIR are:
- Create a tough but fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States that is contingent upon securing U.S. borders and tracking whether legal immigrants have left the country when required;
- Reform the U.S. legal immigration system to better recognize the importance of characteristics that will help build the American economy and strengthen American families;
- Create an effective employment verification system that will prevent identity theft and end the hiring of future unauthorized workers; and
- Establish an improved process for admitting future workers to serve our nation's workforce needs while simultaneously protecting all workers.
The framework acknowledges that the United States must do a better job of attracting and keeping the world's best and brightest. Therefore, the proposal will "award" a green card to immigrants who have received a Ph.D. or Master's Degree in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) major from a U.S. university. Unfortunately, the proposal does not mention potential modifications and and improvements for immigrant and nonimmigrant visas for other high-skilled workers. The proposal does indicate that CIR should provide businesses with the ability to hire lower-skilled workers in a timely manner when Americans are unavailable or unwilling to fill those jobs. The proposal would allow more lower-skilled immigrants to enter the United States when the U.S. economy is creating jobs and fewer when the U.S. economy is not creating jobs.
On January 29, 2013, a group of four senators introduced the first bi-partisan piece of business immigration legislation this year and this legislation would expand the number of skilled workers that U.S. employers may hire. After introducing the bill, another eight senators agreed to co-sponsor the legislation. This bill contains a detailed plan to recalibrate the high-skilled visa system. The bill includes the following:
- Increase the H-1B cap immediately from 65,000 to 115,000.
- Establish a market-based H-1B escalator so that the cap can adjust up or down to the demands of the economy (including a 300,000 ceiling on the ability of the escalator to move up).
- Uncap the existing U.S. Master's or higher degree exemption (which is currently limited to 20,000 per year).
- Authorize employment for dependent spouses of H-1B visa holders.
- Increase portability of high-skilled foreign workers by removing impediments and costs of changing employers and establishing a clear grace period for foreign workers to change jobs.
- Restoring visa revalidation for E, H, L, O and P nonimmigrant visa categories.
- Allow dual intent for foreign students (but not J and M foreign students) at U.S. colleges.
- Recapture employment-based immigrant visa numbers that were previously approved by Congress but were not used. (However, although indirectly increasing the employment-based immigrant visa quota, the legislation would not directly increase the annual employment-based immigrant visa quote from the current level of 140,000.)
Exempt the following individuals from the employment-based "green card" cap –
- Dependents of employment-based immigrant visa recipients;
- U.S. advanced degree holders in the STEM field;
- Persons with extraordinary abilities and outstanding professors and researchers. (The legislation would not create an exemption for Schedule A occupations, such as nursing and physical therapy.)
- Provide for the roll-over of unused employment-based immigrant visa numbers year to year.
- Eliminating annual per-country limits on employment-based immigrant visas and adjusting per-country caps for family-based immigrant visas.
- "Reforming" fees (which translates into increasing fees) on H-1B visas and employment-based green cards to fund grant programs to promote STEM education and worker retraining.
This legislation is strongly supported by many high tech companies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The sponsoring senators stated that they expect their bill will become part of the broader CIR overhaul. One senator, Marco Rubio (R-Fla) and Jeff Flake (R-Arz) are members of both groups. Many believe that this proposal may be used as a bargaining chip to obtain concessions from legislators who want to support a path to citizenship for the estimated eleven million undocumented individuals in the United States but who do not support changing and improving the legal immigration system for high-skilled workers.