Unlike with the debt limit debate, there is bipartisan interest in Congress in reforming high-skill immigration. New legislation is on its way, and here's what to watch for.
What bills have been introduced or are coming?
In the House, the most important Democratic initiative is from Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), whose district includes Silicon Valley. Her bill will make green cards available to students who earn advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, so called STEM graduates. However, her bill isn't expected to go anywhere.
The person to watch instead is U.S. Rep., Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who heads the House Judiciary Committee. Smith appears interested in some limited immigration changes expected in a bill from Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). This bill, which is due "soon," is expected to call for elimination of the per-country limits on green cards.
The U.S. has a cap of 140,000 employment-based visas a year. Spouses and children of the workers are counted against that cap. The U.S. limits the number of green cards per country to no more than 7 percent of the total available visas. In India, where there is a big demand for green cards, the wait for one can be as long as 10 years.
If the per country cap is eliminated, green card applicants who have been waiting the longest may see their expected waiting times reduced. But green card applicants from countries with relatively short wait times may have to wait longer. Tech companies may support per country cap elimination, since applicants from China and India stand to gain the most. The tech firms will take what they can get, but may hope for something better out of the Senate.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), who heads the Senate subcommittee on immigration, said this week that he intends to introduce legislation that, similar to Lofgren's bill, will also staple green cards to a STEM graduate's diploma. He is also promising H-1B reform in his bill.
Overall outlook: If Schumer follows through and the House Judiciary Committee also produces legislation, a limited, targeted immigration reform bill could emerge. Both parties have strong reasons to please the tech industry.
What's the reservation against Green Card 'staple' bills?
Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) argued at the Senate's hearing this week on high-skill immigration reform that legislation which automatically gives a green card to foreign graduates has the potential of turning universities into "visa mills."
How can Congress raise the H-1B cap without raising the cap?
There has been no proposal to specifically raise the H-1B cap, but Smith has pitched the idea of limiting the cap to tech fields.
The U.S. issues 85,000 H-1B visas annually, 20,000 of which are reserved for advanced degree holders. The H-1B is available to people with a wide range of skills, including writers, accountants, lawyers, clergy, librarians, musicians and fashion models.
Smith has suggested removing some of the non-tech categories from the H-1B visa, which may reduce competition for the visa should demand pick-up. As of this month, the U.S. has received nearly 35,000 petitions.
True or false: Does H-1B law require U.S. workers be hired first?
In the H-1B debate, there is an often repeated belief that U.S. workers must be hired before foreign workers. It's false.