House Republicans consider high-skills immigration bill

Bill would eliminate the per-country caps on green cards, which could reduce wait times for Indian and Chinese workers

The negotiations to strike a deal on the debt ceiling may be getting all the attention in Congress, but there are also new efforts by lawmakers to address high-skill immigration issues.

First, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee have circulated a discussion draft of a bill that would eliminate the per-country caps on green cards, according to a copy of the document seen by Computerworld. This proposal may well amount to the GOP alternative to a Democratic plan offered in June by Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), whose district includes Silicon Valley.

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The federal government sets a cap of 140,000 employment-based green cards a year, but it now limits the number of green cards per country to no more than 7 percent of the available visas to people from any one country. This limit has meant that for people from countries where green card demand is high, namely India and China, the wait for a green card can exceed six years.

In a second development, the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security, will hold a hearing Tuesday on "The Economic Imperative for Enacting Immigration Reform." Judging from the initial announcement of those scheduled to testify, it appears that the hearing will feature proponents of high-skill immigration.

Among those due to testify are Robert Greifeld, CEO of Nasdaq OMX Group; David Skorton, president of Cornell University; Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel; and Puneet Arora, vice president of Immigration Voice, an advocacy group for increased skills-based immigration.

In regard to the Republican effort, the tech industry has pitched elimination of the per-country green card caps before, but this approach is not without controversy.

While eliminating the cap could reduce wait times for Indian and Chinese workers, many of whom may be on H-1B visas and are seeking green cards, it could also increase the wait times for applicants from other countries with lower green-card demand.

In its current iteration, the Republican discussion draft's focus on per-county green card caps is far more limited than Lofgren's bill, which seeks to make green cards available to students who earn advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (the so-called STEM fields) from approved U.S. schools, as well to foreign entrepreneurs who create new businesses.

President Barack Obama also favors a system that would make it easier for foreigners who earn advanced degrees to remain in the U.S.

Among the tech groups that would like to see a broader approach taken to the green card process is the IEEE-USA. Jim Jefferies, IEEE-USA's vice president for government relations, said that the engineering organization "hopes Congress will go further by exempting foreign STEM graduate students at U.S. institutions from the EB [employment-based] caps, which would reduce or eliminate wait times for all EB visa applicants."

The lawmaker who may introduce the bill featuring the Republican's approach to skilled immigration is Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah. His office said staffers are working on a bill that isn't exactly the same as the discussion draft, and added that a bill on immigration-related legislation will be ready soon -- though it didn't provide a specific timeline.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov , or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His email address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com .

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This story, "House Republicans consider high-skills immigration bill" was originally published by Computerworld.

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