The usual snail’s pace of Washington does not appear to apply to efforts to advance skilled immigration reform. The past seven days have featured an important hearing on comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate and the introduction of two high-skilled immigration bills on the same day. All of this activity, and the events that preceded it, can only mean one thing: Real immigration reform is finally on the move.
The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last Wednesday gave us an insight into where key Senators on the committee stand on immigration reform. Perhaps more importantly for our sector, it is clear that more and more members, Republican and Democratic, understand that reforming the U.S. employment-based system is a vital key to the nation’s overall economic competiveness.
During the hearing, Senator Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, stated that the U.S. needs to keep foreign-born STEM graduates in the country, noting that the founders of Yahoo! and Google were immigrants. One of the hearing witnesses, former AOL CEO Steve Case, commented that skilled immigrants were the “secret sauce” needed for U.S. entrepreneurship, adding that our foreign competitors benefit when we educate but then don’t employ such immigrants. Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., one of the original cosponsors of the Immigration Innovation (I-Squared) Act, also stated her belief that the I-Squared Act is a necessary part of an overall immigration reform package. Meanwhile, Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., another cosponsor of the I-Squared Act, discussed his concern that individuals on H1-B visas are tied to an employer and face a huge backlog before getting a green card. Mr. Case added that he hoped immigration reform would produce more green cards and H1-B “portability” so that skilled immigrants are free to start new companies.
The I-Squared legislation is not the only important skilled immigration bill pending in Congress. Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah, has reintroduced the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, a bill that would repeal the per-country caps on employer-sponsored visas. The House approved this legislation in 2011 with strong bipartisan support, and Representative Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, also reintroduced companion House legislation on Wednesday with Representatives Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, and Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., as cosponsors.
Lastly, Senators Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Mark Warner, D-Va., Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Chris Coons, D-Del., introduced the Startup Act 3.0, which would provide additional green cards for advanced-degree STEM graduates of U.S. colleges and universities, as well as an increase in provisional green cards for foreign-born entrepreneurs who have received a minimum amount of venture capital or pledged to hire a minimum number of U.S. workers as part of launching a start-up enterprise.
Clearly, growing numbers of Members of Congress, on a bipartisan basis, understand that a key to our nation’s economic competitiveness will be our ability to attract and retain the world’s best and brightest individuals – people with skills in high demand who will help to create new businesses and new jobs here at home. Other nations have modernized their skilled immigration policies in an effort to fuel new investment and job creation, and more are certain to do the same. We can’t stand by and watch as other countries race ahead in this global competition for talent. That’s why we need to take ideas like I-Squared, the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, and Startup 3.0 and make them part of a successful bipartisan effort to reform our immigration system.