A bipartisan group of four senators introduced an immigration bill today aimed at retaining highly skilled immigrants educated in the United States and allowing technology companies to hire badly needed workers.
The bill, called the Immigration Innovation Act, would increase the number of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) visas. A cap currently limits the number distributed each year.
The move comes on the heels of an immigration framework released Monday by a bipartisan "gang of eight" senators, and drops on the same day President Barack Obama is expected to address immigration reform.
Marco Rubio (R-Florida) joined Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) and Chris Coons (D-Delaware) in proposing an increase in the number of employment-based nonimmigrant H-1B visas the country awards. The bill would also tie the awarding of those visas to the performance of the economy. If the economy is booming and companies need workers, the cap would go up. Likewise, if the state of the economy declines and fewer workers are needed, the cap shrinks.
Rubio is also part of the "gang of eight," as is Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), a co-sponsor of Tuesday's bill. While the White House has favored comprehensive immigration reform, Republicans have responded more favorably to the idea of a series of smaller bills aimed at tackling specific problems. Regardless of whether the Immigration Innovation Act gains traction, any comprehensive bill will almost certainly include reforms aimed at allowing companies to hire highly skilled workers.
The bill would also permit spouses of H-1B visa recipients to work in the country, and exempt certain groups of people, such as STEM degree holders and dependents of H-1B visa recipients, from employment-based green card caps.
Money from STEM visa fees would be invested in education programs aimed at attracting more American young people to STEM fields. Technology companies have called for immigration reform and complained that despite high unemployment in the United States, there simply are not enough highly trained workers to fill job openings.
"Our immigration system needs to be modernized to be more welcoming of highly skilled immigrants and the enormous contributions they can make to our economy and society," Rubio said in a statement. "This reform is as much about modernizing our immigration system as it is about creating jobs. It'll help us attract more highly skilled workers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, which will help our unemployed, underemployed or underpaid American workers find better jobs."
Hatch expressed similar sentiments in a statement.
"This bill is a common sense approach to ensuring that those who have come here to be educated in high-tech fields have the ability to stay here with their families and contribute to the economy and our society," he said. "It's a market-driven path forward to fulfilling a need in our immigration system and growing the economy. It's good for workers, good for businesses trying to grow, and good for our economy."