Nearly 90 members of the U.S. House are co-sponsoring an immigration reform bill that would make some broad changes to the H-1B program, as well as take the high-skilled employment debate in new directions.
The legislation would create a federal agency to review U.S. employment needs, a new type of visa for startup founders, as well as an increase the supply of H-1B visas.
Although the technology industry has tried in recent years to get Congress to increase the H-1B cap past 85,000, it has been stymied by proponents of comprehensive immigration reform who didn't want to peel away potential support for a broader bill. But whether this 700-page, yet-to-be-released bill, will get the support of either the tech industry or H-1B critics is less than clear. Both sides may find things to love and hate in its basket of provisions.
One provision that may win tech industry support, calls for the release next year of all the unused H-1B visas from 1992-2008, around 309,000 visas, said one source who has seen some details.
But this House bill, dubbed the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act of 2009, also incorporates some of the provisions of H-1B bills introduced by visa critics Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) that broadly impose restrictions on H-1B use and tougher enforcement.
The bill would set "strict requirements for the recruitment of American workers," according to a House summary.
At a press conference today about the bill, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), one of the bill's main sponsors, said, "If you want to bring a worker from outside the United States to come and work here, we want to make sure American workers get the first opportunity at every American job."
The bill exempts "several categories" of highly skilled workers from employment-based immigrant visa caps. But just what those categories include wasn't detailed.
The bill would create a new, independent federal agency, to be called the "Commission on Immigration and Labor Markets," which would establish "employment-based immigration policies that promote economic growth and competitiveness while minimizing job displacement, wage depression and unauthorized employment."
The new agency would also recommend H-1B and other visa caps to Congress. The legislation also calls for the creation of a new visa, called the "founders visa." It's an idea that has been championed by Paul Graham , a programming language developer, and others. "The biggest constraint on the number of new startups that get created in the U.S. is not tax policy or employment law or even Sarbanes-Oxley. It's that we won't let the people who want to start them into the country," he wrote earlier this year about the visa.
Despite a long list of co-sponsors, the House bill has a long way to go. A competing immigration bill in the U.S. Senate is expected from U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, who heads of the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security. Schumer is a longtime supporter of the H-1B program , but Durbin and Grassley are on that committee as well. Schumer had planned to introduce it this year but has since delayed it until spring .