As the Senate “Gang of 8” comprehensive immigration reform bill heads to the Senate floor for three weeks of work on amendments, San Diego’s own Rep. Darrell Issa, recently unveiled a new bill to address various high-tech and STEM visa reform issues. Joining House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, H.R. 2131—Supplying Knowledge Based Immigrants and Lifting Levels of STEM Visas Act or SKILLS Visa Act—seeks to address several high-tech visa issues including H-1B, STEM, entrepreneur and foreign investor visas. The House Judiciary Committee is expected to take up some form of immigration reform legislation in the coming weeks which would likely include consideration of the SKILLS Visa Act.
In introducing the bill, Chairman Goodlatte noted the global fight for talent and the need to keep America competitive stating, “In today’s global economy, our nation needs access to the world’s best talent to maintain our competitive edge. Although high-skilled immigrants are often in demand by American employers, many of them end up on the green card waiting list for years. Consequently, many of these foreign workers and students go back to their home countries and work for one of our global competitors. The SKILLS Visa Act provides a solution to this problem by eliminating immigration programs that do not meet the needs of our nation and reallocating those visas to high-skilled immigrants who will help make us more competitive in today’s economy.”
Rep. Issa, who is Chairman of another important committee in the immigration reform review process, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, talked about the importance of STEM visa reform in H.R. 2131, “This bill is an investment in our Nation’s future. The SKILLS Visa Act will allow the best and brightest foreign graduates of American universities to stay in the U.S., encourage entrepreneurs and investors to grow our economy, and create American jobs…In addition to keeping the world’s best and brightest here in the U.S., the SKILLS Visa Act will modernize immigration laws to help our growing technology sector.”
The bill addresses these key innovation issues CONNECT has been supporting for years:
Increases Green Cards for STEM Grads including lifescience/biotech degrees: The SKILLS Visa Act allocates up to 55,000 green cards a year for employers to petition for foreign graduates of U.S. universities with advanced degrees in STEM fields. Especially important to the lifescience/biotech community, this provision corrects flaws in other bills that did not include lifescience/biotech degrees in the list of qualifying STEM degrees.
Supports STEM Education in U.S.: The bill raises the current fee on H-1B visas and institutes a fee on employers petitioning for green cards for workers that will go towards strengthening STEM education in the U.S.
Increases and Strengthens H-1B Visa Program: Increases the H-1B visa cap for high-skilled workers to 155,000 and increases the special pool of visas for foreign graduates of U.S. universities to 40,000. The bill contains enhanced anti-fraud provisions and allows H-1B spouses to work.
Provides Entrepreneur Visas: The bill allocates up to 10,000 green cards a year for alien entrepreneurs who can attract investment from venture-capital firms to establish businesses that will create five jobs or have already created five jobs over 10 years through the E-2 treaty investor program.
Strengthens Investor Visa Program: The bill strengthens the investor visa green card program by making the regional center pilot project permanent, indexing investment requirements for inflation, and adding anti-fraud protections.
Eliminates Arbitrary Caps: The bill eliminates the employment-based green card per-country cap, allowing American employers to have access to the best talent.
In endorsing the bill, Timothy Tardibono, CONNECT’s Washington D.C. Office director, applauded Chairman Issa’s focus on innovation and entrepreneurism, “Additionally, we are pleased to see the bill’s focus not only on attracting foreign born entrepreneurs but also on attracting foreign born investors. We know from our daily work with tech startups that the number one challenge they face is access to capital. Enhancing the investor visa program will give startups/emerging companies new options for capital development which will directly result in more job creation.. Tardibono also commended Chairman Issa for fixing the STEM visa program to include lifescience/biotech degrees, “Previous STEM visa bills have inadvertently left out talented lifescience students from qualifying for new STEM visas. We greatly appreciate your and your staff’s extensive efforts to rectify this oversight which will keep the pipeline of lifescience talent flowing in San Diego.”
To learn more about Chairman Issa’s bill, click here.